Tuesday, 10 August 2010



Neil Marshall‘s Dog Soldiers was a decent debut, a werewolf movie that focused on the prey rather than the monsters and the tale of squaddies up against spindly-legged lycanthropes shares a lot with Marshall’s latest film, though not the humour.
Both films pit a group of soldiers against a feral enemy in the Scottish wilderness, but in the case of Centurion it’s Roman soldiers trying to escape the ruthless Picts that hunt them. There is an attempt to inject a familiar brand of ‘laddish’ humour between the soldiers, echoing the camaraderie found in Dog Soldiers, but it works less well here as the situation facing them is more realistic and somehow the move from supernatural horror to action/thriller also dampens the impact of comic relief. The main problem with the film is the lack of spark that would set it apart from a myriad group of similar action films and prevent it from feeling like an accomplished straight-to-DVD B picture, with echoes of everything from Ravenous to the 13th Warrior and Pathfinder to Gladiator.

The cast is fine with Michael Fassbender yet to tarnish a great run of performances and Dominic West particularly enjoyable in what would be an easily fudged role of the meathead captain down with the grunts, repairing a lot of damage done by his odd turn in 300. Liam Cunningham, David Morrisey and Riz Ahmed also shine, though Olga Kurylenko is presumably there as a pretty face and bankable name as a Bond Girl and I wonder whether the character’s muteness featured in the script before she came on board. Imogen Poots (the daughter in 28 Weeks Later) as Arian, the suspected witch outcast, feels a little out of step with the movie, both a refuge from the otherwise relentless pace of the hunt and also out of time, perhaps a bit too modern for the setting. As an action feature I would expect the female roles to be more one-dimensional or not to ring true, but with the Descent as a writing as well as directing credit it’s surprising that Marshall has not made more of his female leads here.

The location work deserves some mention as countless scenes of Scotland millennia past are framed in their stark beauty as the dwindling squad battle the elements as well as their pursuers, with the cinematography washed of colour in order to highlight the cold and unforgiving clime. Action scenes are relatively few as the film concentrates on the run, with one large-scale battle a victim of quick cuts in editing, but outside these the film struggles to shape the largely stock characters, Fassbender’s hero remarkable chiefly for his endurance and ability to speak the native tongue, whilst Cunningham is cursed with the genre trope of being speared only to pull his attacker in for a bit of macho brutality.

I can’t decide whether Centurion is disappointing or just underwhelming, either way it’s sad that the film doesn’t seem to equal the sum of it’s parts. it’s by no means a bad film but it just doesn’t elevate itself up above other genre entries enough to be more than a solid entry, rather than a benchmark. Fairly decent in isolation but lacking the freshness Marshall brought to his first two features.


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