CENTURION - On DemandJuly 20, 2010
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: CENTURION. Tell us what you think about the review here.
Of British director Neil Marshall’s features, military/werewolf tale DOG SOLDEIRS surprised and earned him fans, while slick extreme sports girls vs underground aliens sleeper hit THE DESCENT added stateside success, and though the post-apocalyptic action-thriller DOOMSDAY didn’t exactly blow up, it cemented Marshall as a geeks’ geek and one of those people on track to fulfilling a “one in each category” film career – though with those genre combinations, it feels like he may end up with one in each sub-sub-category.
Marshall has now combined a Roman-era tale with an action/chase plot to give us CENTURION, an exploration into the fate of the famed Roman 9th Legion.
In 117 A.D., on the outskirts of the Roman Empire in what we now know as Scotland, the conquering (but tired) Romans face a horde of ruthless barbarians known (especially to us CONAN fans) as Picts. When one cohort is wiped out, our lead, Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) is taken prisoner. When the Roman army’s Ninth liberates Quintus, they use a mute Pict woman to hunt down the rest of her kind but she leads them into a trap and only a handful of men, including Quintus, survive. Down-to-earth general Titus Virilus (yep, he sure is manly!) played by Dominic West (The Wire) is captured and our boys play into the Pict hands trying to rescue him. From there on out, they are chased and chased some more, getting pict off (get it?) one by one until only the lead actors remain.
Opening of the movie boasts some of the most ostentatious title credits in recent memory, though ultimately what follows is not as grand. From the start, this film has decided what it wants to be – a popcorn flick – and this isn’t a bad thing, it’s Marshall’s thing. But after a stunning HBO miniseries like Rome has raised the bar on the genre, one gets a little tired of fight sequences that resonate with superhuman Marvel Comics action rather than more realistic fighting that the intentionally sparse art direction, grubby costumes and de-saturated color scheme demand. The Picts are “Peter Jackson Picts.” They belong in MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME more than ancient Rome, which is fine. Dialogue is fairly plain, expository and sometimes laughably anachronistic, which is also fine. The action and editing are decent. Performances are solid.
I guess what I’m saying is, I really miss a personal stamp on this one from Marshall. Everything in the film feels like a retread. The music is forgettable. Big blue lights just off camera give us a familiar cinematography, and though sweeping plane shots give us grandeur, they do not deliver originality. Listless narration add to the feeling that this is more like a by-the-numbers studio pic rather than something from the geek of geeks. Most disappointingly, the story becomes predictable. This may be the only film of his that feels like it doesn’t have a point. Still, I’d prefer this to the abomination that will be the upcoming Conan remake (shudder) if just for the knowledge of Marshall’s enthusiasm behind it all.
As entertainment, CENTURION isn’t bad. It’s like that quote about pizza or sex (even if it’s not so great it’s still pretty good?) If you’re paying attention to Marshall’s career (and you should) or maybe if you just love the brutal Roman genre (there’s tons of blood and gore) or you just dig the actors (they’re all good) it’s worth the watch.
Up next for Marshall: SACRILEGE, a horror-western and BURST3D about people trapped in a blizzard getting attacked by an entity that makes them explode (produced by Sam Raimi!) – these projects and more in the pipeline make Marshall a busy man and his fans can take the lesser films and enjoy them for what they are.
If you want to follow up on another depiction of the Roman Ninth, look out for upcoming THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH, sure to be treated in more serious fashion by heady director Kevin MacDonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND).
- Sean McPhillps
Sean McPhillips is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. He is a former vice president of acquisitions for Miramax Films (During Harvey's reign) and currently writes/directs for NY-based Secret Hideout Films (with two consecutive shorts in Tribeca and upcoming new material) and works as Senior Programmer, Coordinator for the brand new Gold Coast International Film Festival (to make its debut in June, 2011)