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Romans on the Run- Centurion review

September 8, 2010

If only this had been the real poster.

FINALLY went and saw Centurion today. Predictably, nobody to go with, since my taste in movies is unreliable at best, so I found myself alone at the Angelika with quite a few more people than I expected, it being a Wednesday and a movie that- well, yeah. This is actually the second movie I’ve seen alone this week- I went and saw Going the Distance last weekend and it was adorable. Drew Barrymore continues to be charming and talented and I thought the movie was well-put together.

Centurion, though. I had really been waiting a while for this movie. Neil Marshall, A. Director of some of my favorite movies, specifically Dog Soldiers and The Descent. Doomsday was a really awesome B-movie, but not nearly as good as the previous two. The buzz up to Centurion was that Marshall had directed another reliable genre movie; this time, a swords-and-sandals chase across ancient Scotland, involving the fabled Lost Ninth Legion and a bunch of angry Picts. The entire cast, B. Michael Fassbender, who you know I love, forever, all movies, at all times; David “Bradley Headstone” Morrissey, Liam “Captain Crewe” Cunningham, Noel “Mickey Smith” Clarke. And C, I live for this kind of movie. Running! Jumping! Climbing mountains! Being chased by an implacable band of Scots! Garish, cartoony violence!

So, knowing all this, was I disappointed? Did the all-star cast rise to the occasion? Did Neil “Genre Master” Marshall deliver a good film? Was Michael Fassbender’s upper body a miracle to behold as he ran, shirtless, through the snow? Well, yes and no. Yes, Fassy is a glorious specimen, and does Glowering, Capable Leader extraordinarily well. Yes, the cast was excellent, their rapport was entirely believable as a group of men forced together into cooperation by circumstance rather than personal feeling. Was the movie good? Was it well-paced, believable, exciting?

Run, Fassy, Run!

Hmm. While it was happening, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I responded well to the truly insane levels of intermittent violence, as is my wont. I really liked the people I was watching, which always helps, and especially when the people that lived the longest were the people I liked the most (DAVID MORISSEY, I LOVE YOU.) Afterwards, though, I couldn’t really conjure up the usual level of enthusiasm. When I like a movie—I mean, really like it, preorder it on DVD, make plans for a second viewing level of like—I won’t stop talking about it. I’ll text friends. I’ll call my parents and try to convince them that this latest horrifically violent and / or actiony movie I’ve just seen is actually Very Good and that they would TOTALLY LOVE IT. I’d tweet about it. After I saw Inception, I was damn near insufferable- that’s how I work. I’m a proselytizer (spelling?)

Afterwards I couldn’t conjure that enthusiasm. The plot was less ludicrous than I had been led to believe. In a nutshell, Quintus Dias (Fassbender, whose shoulder to waist ratio is higher than the average human—seriously, dude’s built like a swimmer, except shorter), after having survived one Pict raid on his garrison, escapes and meets up with the Ninth Legion who, under the leadership of Virulus (Dominic “McNulty” West, may his name be praised unto the heavens) are sallying forth back into Pict Country to wipe out them celts for good. Virulus and the 3,000 Romans under his command are led by Ytaine (Olga “Bond Girl from Quantum of Solace” Kurlyenko), a captive Pict who the Roman governor Agricola somehow TOTALLY TRUSTS to not betray this massive invasion force to the Picts and in no way is going to get revenge for the massive amounts of torture and death she’s suffered at Roman hands.* What happens next is spelled out handsomely in the trailer. The legion is set upon by Picts, massacred, and a handful of men are left and decide to go get the General and go home.

Shit just got real. Real, real bloody.

The question of the movie isn’t “are they going to make it back to Roman lines” but “how far are they going to get before they all get fucking slaughtered?” The answer is “not very far, and yet, also surprisingly farther than one would think.” There are the predictable problems—someone gets injured, dragging them down, the elements conspire against them—and some welcome unpredictable ones: the sociopathic soldier whose actions and betrayals were entirely unexpected was a nice touch. I was genuinely kept guessing. Up until the last moment I didn’t really realize how this shit was going to shake down.

The detour in the last third to the house of the comely and helpful Pict witch Arianne** was less jarring for me than many reviewers found it. What I found unbelievable was when three gross-looking, bloody, undoubtedly gross-smelling Roman soldiers rolled up on her hearth all it took for her to throw out the welcome wagon was good ol’ fassy flashing those eyes at her and speaking some pretty words in Pictish. (Which, by the way, the movie never explained how he spoke.) I mean, if Michael Fassbender rolled up on my  stoop with a wounded friend and was like “pretty lady, help us out” I would probably do my damndest to heal his wounds, if you know what I mean. But when the only other female character in the movie is a mute, bloodthirsty warrior, poor Arianne seemed a little milquetoast in comparison.

In the end, I did very much enjoy Centurion. I definitely don’t regret spending $13 on it. Kind of a sad way to end a review, but  hey- them’s the breaks. I might do a followup post and compare Doomsday and Centurion, since both have very interesting parallels, but it’s getting late and I am le tired.

*Man, fuck that guy (Agricola, the politician) He totally knew that the Ninth would get totally hosed, and he didn’t care.

**Played with winsome, vacant charm by Imogen Poots, whose last name is a verb and also undignified

One Comment leave one →
  1. Emile Lamarque permalink
    January 3, 2011 6:11 am

    You are very wrong about the comments you made of this movie.

    Centurion is a thrilling movie of blood shed, betrayal, sacrafice and survival. Mixed in with all that is a romance between the characters Quintis Dias and Arianne which both hold and share the same fate of exile at the ending of the movie from both Romans and the Picts.

    Yourself and many other typical people, obviously do not look into what the movie conveys, of which is a brilliant story.

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