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November 6, 2010


(2010, Dir. by Neil Marshall.)

I know next to nothing about European history.  I also don't know much about Europe.  Like, I have trouble figuring out what is and is not a part of Great Britain.  I know that a lot of people from across the pond read this blog, and I apologize thoroughly for my ignorance.  I'm all for a cup of tea and I thank you all for Hammer Films, Rowan Atkinson, and (of course), Sean Freakin' Connery.

My point is that Centurion - in which a horde of Romans (alleged to be the mysterious Ninth Legion) try to fend off something called the Picts and end up running for their lives in 117 A.D. - didn't strike a historical chord with me.  I'm OK with that - trying to sort out every war's point and purpose hurts my cranium - and I instead chose to look at Centurion as a bit of fun with a lot of blood.  That resulted in me finding this a highly entertaining action film.

One topic I don't need a history lesson on is director Neil Marshall, who I've long loved loudly.  I've found much to love about each of his four films, and approached Centurion with the kind of anticipation that most save for Harry Potter or Twilight or True Blood films.  (Yes, I know there's no True Blood films...YET.)  Marshall has quickly become an institution to me, even when in his most derivative works (like his 2008 actioner Doomsday).

Centurion can definitely be seen as a response to the popularity of recent sword and sandal entertainment like 300 and Spartacus: Blood and Sand, but I found that Marshall's film more closely resembled his debut feature, the werewolves vs. soldiers flick Dog Soldiers.  I've been a big fan of that film since the day it appeared on DVD (if I recall correctly, I covered it in one of my first DVD columns back in Box Office Boredom's heyday), and I wasn't long into Centurion before I started seeing the similarities.  After some military set up that involves a Centurion (Inglourious Basterds' Michael Fassbender) teaming up with a General (Dominic West) and a tracker (the latest Bond gal, Olga Kurylenko); Centurion becomes a survival flick.  Like Dog Soldiers, the film ends up following a small group of soldiers who survive a surprise attack and are left on the run for their life. Plus, when you consider the copious amounts of blood and use of survival tactics, Centurion seems more like a horror film than a historical drama. (And, Dog Soldiers co-star Liam Cunningham makes a welcome return as one of the potential survivors.  And there is at least one shot of the full moon.)

In line with his two previous action films (counting Dog Soldiers alongside Doomsday for a minute), Centurion keeps a brisk pace and doesn't stall much between violent set pieces.  These scenes are framed well, and feature more than enough bloodletting to keep action and horror fans pleased.  The moments that do surrounded them are filled with sweeping shots of the men trying to escape across the Scottish terrain (accompanied by a fantastic score by Ilan Eshkeri) and some brief exposition regarding the Centurion's character and the brutality of the Picts.  The film looks about as good as you could expect it to, especially on a modest $12 million budget; Marshall once again succeeds in creating an efficient film that feels like a big budget spectacle.

Something else that jumped out at me, for the fourth time in four films, is that Marshall puts a large burden of his violence on the shoulders of female characters.  Though it seemed primarily a plot device when he gave the lone female character in Dog Soldiers a crucial role in the fate of the characters, he followed that with an all-female cast in The Descent and a female lead in Doomsday - and in both of those cases he gave the "tough guy" roles to women.  This time out he gives Kurylenko plenty of chances to be a big bad mama on screen, and also offers up his wife, Axelle Carolyn, as another Pict hunter who scores plenty of vicious kills.  Though these characters aren't deep in any regards - and I think I can count their combined lines of dialogue on one hand - it's incredibly relevant that Marshall again puts women on an equal playing field with men. He even gives them the upper hand in several situations, and these two characters are far more intimidating to the viewer than the bland Pict "king" who is the Romans' initial target.  This doesn't feel like it's a sensational technique in which Marshall just wants to draw the male gaze toward these women - it feels like Marshall truly wants to honor these women by showing them at their bloody best. He has shown us through these four films that both men and women can kick butt in his world, and Centurion is no exception to that rule.

Centurion is a nice next step in Marshall's filmography, as it stays true to his intense, up-tempo style and offers enjoyably violent carnage; adding up to a fine bit of entertainment that kept me hooked for just under 100 minutes.  It might not be the best film I've seen lately based on its story or characters, but in a year that's been short on macho cinema it's an incredibly welcome diversion. 

1 comment:

Jinx said...

I'd never had a particular fancy for seeing this one, but I'm a bit curious now.
Also, I'm a British person and my entire concept of our history is based on Blackadder and the historical Carry On films.