seeing writer/director Neil Marshall’s last three
films, I can attest without hesitation that I haven’t
seen a Neil Marshall film that I didn’t like. 2008's
Doomsday was a raucous homage to several apocalyptic
classics, 2006's The Descent, a superb claustrophobic
nightmare that earned Marshall the most recognition, and
his feature debut, 2002's Dog Soldiers was an unforgettable
entry into the horror genre.
of these films are heavy on suspense and fast-action, displaying
stunning visuals and just enough characterization to hook
you in. The same signature elements converge in his latest
release, Centurion, an action thriller set during
the Roman conquest of Europe during the 2nd century.
fashions an engaging fictional tale out of historical myth,
covering a period of history that has received scarce documentation.
We’re introduced to a bound and bloodied man, shirtless
and barefoot, desperately running in a snowswept landscape.
This is Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) a centurion in
the Roman army, who has escaped enemy capture.
evaded (for now) the barbaric Picts, descendants of Scots,
who are savagely defending their Northern Britain home from
the grasp of the Roman Empire. His escape is short-lived,
though, as he finds himself back in the frenzied fray when
he is sent to join General Titus (Dominic West), who is
ordered to trek back into Pict territory. Leading a Roman
army, their mission is to find and kill Pict leader Gorlacon
(Ulrich Thomsen), putting a stop to the decimation of Roman
outposts in the area.
Their army marches into a Pict ambush, resulting in the
slaughter of all but a few survivors that will eventually
be known as the Ninth Legion. Dias and Titus are joined
by Bothos (David Morrisey), Ubriculius (Liam Cunningham)
and four other soldiers, becoming a band of brothers who
fight for their lives in harsh environments. They are relentlessly
pursued by a merciless group of Pict tracers, led by the
mysterious Etain (Olga Kurylenko) a ferociously furious
mute warrior bent on revenge. Traveling mostly on foot and
navigating through challenging terrain, Dias has one goal:
to keep these men alive and lead them back to safety.
Centurion is ambitious, Marshall’s most expansive
film yet in both its scope and atmosphere. There’s
rarely a moment where you won’t see a character’s
breath escape from their adrenalized or fatigued bodies
amid the vast mountains, dense forests, and ice-cold streams.
cinematographer Sam McCurdy joins Marshall once again, slashing
strokes of bludgeoning scarlet across blue and green hues.
Not only is it a gorgeous film to take in, this is also
Marshall’s most accessible film yet, giving fans of
sword and sandal tales something to gnash at.
The overall storyline is unique in that it gives us a period
in time seldom covered, but the main theme is one of survival.
It’s a theme Marshall has employed in all his films
in various genres, usually involving a group of people trying
to stay alive in impossible situations, often making difficult
decisions. I find myself inherently attracted to films where
men and women are pushed to the limit and forced to take
dramatic steps to stay alive. Marshall clearly enjoys this
too and he also has an affinity for the group dynamic approach.
Just like in his previous films, Centurion wastes
no time thinning out this dynamic, leaving us with one exhausted
While the film could have been clearer in regards to who
is who with a dash of additional characterization, it’s
hard to complain when Marshall’s strengths are so
over-powering. His battlefield staging is impressive, especially
when the Romans are ambushed by rolling fireballs that come
barreling out of the craggy woods.
follows is a bloody-knuckled ballet of axes, swords and
head-cracking. Marshall is less concerned about exploiting
violence as he is determined to depict what an ax to the
head or a decapitation would really look like. His actors
are assuredly put through a gauntlet of training and rigorous
Speaking of his actors, here is yet another Marshall film
where the cast is excellently selected. As the central character
and narrator, Fassbinder confidently embodies the leading
man, bound for A-list actor status. Since catching my attention
Basterds, he has clearly been the most charismatic
presence in his films, regardless if those films are bad
never find a wussy woman in his films, either; Marshall
even employs his wife to play a savage Pict, As the savage
she-wolf, Kurlyenko pursues her prey with every sweaty pore,
a formidable yet slightly tragic freak.
lets us catch our breath when he introduces us to Arianne
(Imogen Poots), an exiled Pict witch who aids our wounded
soldiers. At first, she conveys a coldness but eventually
Poots injects a needed safe haven for the harrowing situations
these soldiers endure. It’s an overall successful
gathering of actors, who have little time for melodrama.
Centurion is at its best when Marshall maintains
the steady savagery that carries us into the gory finale.
If you liked Braveheart, Gladiator, 300 and King
Arthur, there’s no reason you shouldn’t
get on your horse and make your way to the theater for this
doesn’t waste any time getting bogged down by any
political or religious subplots, nor does he need to deal
with taxation or tariffs, this is action and adventure reminiscent
of those old Weekend Matinees. It’s Marshall’s
devotion to the genres he commits which make him a filmmaker
I will continue to watch.
review also appears on David's own website,
Keeping It Reel.)