SXSW 2010 Review: CENTURION
Editor's Note: This review was originally published on March 23rd, 2010.
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko
It's not as though contemporary cinema is completely devoid of Roman period films. After all, it was only about ten years ago that GLADIATOR walked away with Best Picture at the Oscars. 300 could be described as similar in the eyes of studios, but Rome is incredibly unique when compared with Ancient Greece. So why do I feel as though we rarely get any good Roman soldier movies?
Neil Marshall, the genre genius behind THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS, has returned to the screen to satiate my thirst with CENTURION. Not only did he satisfy my wanton desire for legionaries slaughtering pagan natives, he impaled my desires with a spear and a battle cry. In fact, I dug this movie a hell of a lot more than Ridley Scott's Academy Award winning film. Check out my full review, after the jump.
CENTURION follows the mysterious Ninth Legion, which suspiciously disappeared in northern Britain in 117 AD. Marshall has taken this historical legend and turned it into a badass action flick. He's cast Michael Fassbender as his lead, Quitus Dias, who commands what remains of his legion after it is ambushed by Pict rebels. Their first goal is to rescue their captured leader, General Virilus, who is portrayed by Dominic West. Chaos, violence, and revenge ensue.
The film's narrative isn't exactly attempting to give you something completely original. In fact, I can just imagine the pitch for CENTURION: SEVEN SAMURAI meets SPARTACUS. Instead of trying to innovate, Marshall has decided to simply improve on all that's come before him. He's ramped up the intensity tenfold and never gives his audience a chance to relax. He's paced his film incredibly well, as he places his action scenes in just the right places to keep his viewers entirely invested in the picture.
And damn does he succeed with those action scenes. Marshall throws on the violence in the most beautiful way possible by refusing to pull punches, tossing on the blood, and inventing some fanciful ways to kill people. These sequences are incredibly taught and well shot, which really is a testament to Marshall's skill as a director.
Fassbender continues to solidify his place at the top of my list of cinema's best actors. Despite the film's action orientation, Fassbender refuses to phone in his performance. He delivers yet another solid performance as Quintus Daius and proves that he can do literally anything in the realm of acting. Dominic West, who I was first introduced to through "The Wire," brings an intriguing intensity to the role as General Virilus. The two are the film's strongest performances by far and they completely overshadow any of the supporting cast.
In fact, therein lies one of the film's few flaws. Once the Ninth Legion is ambushed, the audience is left to follow a small group of seven legionaries on a hell bent mission to rescue their General. However, we only really get to know Fassbender in any significant capacity worth mentioning. There is a minor subplot which attempts to explore a betrayal within their ranks, though it isn't ever fully fleshed out. The other legionaries are glossed over, which is quite unfortunate as I would have liked a bit more insight into their motivations and histories.
Another weak element of the film arises out of a love interest for Fassbender, which pops up about half way through the film. It isn't so much as unnecessary, as the girl serves a vital interest to the film's conclusion, as it is underdeveloped. I would have liked to spend a bit more time with her in order to develop that emotional connection before we, as an audience, are required to be invested in her character in order to achieve any sort of payoff for their relationship.
And yet, all of my gripes wind up being quite insignificant to my overall thoughts. These flaws don't impact the film in any sort of severe way, as the film's conclusion contains a fantastic action sequence that delivers a massive reward for your two hour investment. CENTURION ranks up there with THE DESCENT in Marshall's great, though limited filmmography. A stellar action flick, great acting, and an interesting historical piece makes this one worth watching when it hits theaters later this year.
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