This movie follows the misadventures of the Ninth Legion as they invade Scotland in 117AD. Although inspired by real events, it is a work of complete fiction. It is also a work of complete shit.
I won't bother getting into historical inaccuracies or "Roman soldiers didn't fight like that" trainspotting nonsense. You don't care about that, and neither do I most of the time. Unless it's a particularly glaring mistake, that sort of thing does not spoil a movie for anyone who is not being a dick about terms.
Centurion could have been a good movie. The disappearance of the Ninth Legion could certainly be spun into a fascinating story, and writer/director Neil Marshall is definitely interested in making the story morally ambiguous. The protagonists are the Romans, who are out for dominion; the villains are the Picts, who are fighting off invaders who plunder their lands, enslave and kill them, and (in the course of the story) murder their children. Marshall himself is Scottish and there is a clear, intentional irony in his depiction of the Picts as savage and dehumanised proponents of guerilla warfare, and also in the way that the Romans speak Latin as English with pronounced English accent, while Pict is guttural and inhuman (and Picts speaking Latin do so in a Scottish brogue).
Unfortunately, Neil Marshall is the director of Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday, all pulp horror/action movies. If Dog Soldiers was "Aliens with werewolves" then Centurion is "Dog Soldiers with Scottish people" with all of the third-hand self-referential problems that suggests.
The movie is packed with good actors (Michael Fessbinder, Liam Cunningham, Davic Morrissey, Dominic West) but you wouldn't know that they were good just from watching this. It's filled with violent action scenes that are completely unexciting. It doesn't trust the audience to have a clue; every plot and thematic point is hammered home with expository dialogue and endless amounts of voice-over narration. Both the dialogue and narration are head-slappingly obvious, so predictable that I was able to mouth along with the actors at many points.
This movie casts a model as a cliché mute "woman warrior" - presumably to safeguard against non-acting. The only major female character to have any dialogue may as well have "love interest" carved into her forehead. (And if she's exiled to live alone, why does she wear so much modern-looking makeup?)
The battle scenes are filled with heads and limbs being lopped off and CGI blood spraying everywhere, in almost a textbook case of "more is less". Compare them with the battle scenes in Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight for a lesson in the difference between mere excess and genuine impact. These battles are clearly influenced by those in Chimes, though I would wager that the influence is actually via intermediary movies such as Braveheart.
In summary, this is a terrible movie that isn't even a guilty pleasure. It's a shame, as The Descent seemed to mark Marshall as a filmmaker to watch.
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