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Technically Impressive Epic That Sometimes Fails The Logic Test
on August 25, 2010
When I first discovered director Neil Marshall, I was an instant fan. In the horror genre, he did some solid work with the satisfying werewolf tale "Dog Soldiers" and the sublimely staged "The Descent" (which I know has its detractors, but for me was one of the most entertaining films of its year). The "Mad Max" retread "Doomsday" was an inevitable disappointment--but didn't dispel the notion that, at least, Marshall had a visual flair. I was intrigued to see him wander into "Gladiator" type territory with "Centurion" because the man can stage one heck of a battle. While the film, which is certainly better than "Doomsday," has a lot going for it--sadly, it ends up missing the mark. My guy reaction as I turned to my friend at the end was "Man, I wanted to like that much more than I did!"
I was genuinely and actively rooting for "Centurion" to be more wholly satisfying--so I guess that's a positive comment in and of itself. First off, the film looks absolutely incredible. The sweeping countryside and mountainous terrain as the camera pans across is breathtaking. The battle sequences are alive and bloody--not as dreary as some recent higher profile epics. The film sounds fantastic with a pulsing orchestration that fits the film beautifully. But the film's greatest asset is its star Michael Fassbender. A sensation in the art house favorite "Hunger," Fassbender claims leading man status with ease. His grounded physicality and intelligence shine through--at times, you think that he's smarter than the material he's been dealt.
The film covers the period of A.D. 117 when Roman troops were engaged in a struggle and trying to advance upon the the Picts in the Scottish highlands. The Picts employed guerilla tactics to hold the Romans off for 20 years. I won't, but could, debate historical accuracy in the film, but it is clearly meant to be an adventure yarn and not a historical treatise. However, the film seems to want us to identify with the Romans and brand the Picts as the villains when all they wanted to do was defend their land from being conquered. Not so bad in my book. My main issues with the film is that sometimes the screenplay can be conveniently silly. Several times the Picts don't finish off the stragglers after the epic battle by choice ("oh, just let him bleed"). Their guerilla camp is invaded by not one, but about 6, Romans soldiers in a rescue attempt--not very alert for guerillas! And a tracker who could trail soldiers for hundreds of wilderness miles couldn't find them in a one room cabin! These are but a few examples that had me scratching my head.
I won't even discuss the unnecessary twist ending or the tacked-on romance, I'll just say that "Centurion" ended up losing some of my good will. I'd probably still recommend the film as light entertainment, especially if you put your brain on hold, but I wanted it to be great! But look for Fassbender elsewhere--he's going to be big (I hope)! KGHarris 08/10