Neil Marshall | 2010 | 97 min | UK
I was very excited when I heard that Neil Marshall was tackling the story of the 9th Roman Legion who went missing in the frontier of the empire's territory in 117 AD. What would Marshall conjure up? A reinvention of Gaelic vampire lore? A period return to his werewolves? Oh boy, I had looked forward to that for a long time. Well, the wait is over! And Centurion delivers nothing new.
My problem with the movie is not that I was disappointed by its lack of supernatural hoo-ha, however. The story is interesting enough: a legion is decimated by a local army employing guerrilla tactics that are totally alien to the Romans, and is wiped from the official history books. And the calibre of talent is remarkable, led by Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. Unfortunately, the script just goes through the usual paces, delivering a few character surprises, but mostly favouring the path of countless other action films. Even the action set pieces are dry. There are some gory moments, plenty of tight camera work rendering those moments largely indecipherable, and virtual buckets full of CGI blood jetting forth from CGI wounds. By the time a comely unarmoured woman is introduced, you know exactly where everything is heading.
Though I did very much enjoy most of the cast, I do have one casting gripe: Ulrich Thomsen, who plays Pict leader Gorlacon, was done up to look far too much like Sting for me to have ever taken seriously on screen. "Is that Sting? Why is Sting so mad? That might be Sting," etc.
On the bright side, the photography in the English and Scottish countrysides is beautiful. Marshall seems to recognize this as the highlight of the film, too, because he really got his money's worth with that helicopter rental. There are countless extreme long shots of our heroes and their pursuers racing across hilltops and plains. These running shots could be a drinking game if anyone were willing to give Centurion a second watch.
At 97 minutes it absolutely drags its way to the end. Apparently there is a 120 minutes cut in Finland as well? Good God. Centurion is not terrible, but the best that can be said about it is that it is serviceable. On the heels of Doomsday, The Descent, and Dog Soldiers, it is very disappointing that Marshall would accept that as good enough.