Like Rian Johnson, Neil Marshall is a director who I respond to primarily because he has apparently dedicated his career to making the types of movies I like to watch. Dog Soldiers is a scrappy little film, one of the few to use the Raimi/Jackson Splatterpunk tradition without simply aping it. The Descent is one of the best, smartest, most squirm enducing horror films of the previous decade. And Doomsday is Grindhouse for those raised on the films of John Carpenter and Walter Hill instead of the 42nd Street product. He simply has yet to make a film I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.
So Given the festival buzz it got, I was somewhat surprised that I never got a chance to see Centurion in a theater. Not only that but The DVD release was so quiet that I didn’t even know the movie was out until I literally stumbled upon it at Borders as I was looking for something to use a ten dollar coupon on.
If I was surprised by Centurion’s handling before viewing it, I’m down right baffled now. Centurion is simply put, a blast, a good ole fashioned slice of B movie heaven. It delivers the requisite thrills and chills, with a keen and unique visual sensibility and an old fashioned sense of story. All while taking exquisite advantage of the severe beauty of the natural surroundings, getting its all out of its charismatic cast, and delivering some fantastically tense set pieces and some brutal action. As well as a few of the most roundly unexpected Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid references I’ve ever seen.
Centurion tells the story of the fabled Ninth Legion. The legendary group of Roman Soldiers who one day marched into Northern Britain and never marched the fuck out.
Centurion follows the few survivors’ of the massacre as they’re hunted by a group of vengeful and fucking crazy Pict warriors across the merciless and harshly beautiful landscape of Northern Britain. The cast headed by the ever enjoyable Michael Fassbender, Dominic “McNulty” West, and a surprisingly feral Olga Kurylenko all of whom do credible and charismatic work.
Comparing it to Driven, which was a B movie whose delusions of grandeur ended up sucking all the life out of it, Centurion is a film that does nothing but relentlessly deliver the goods all while couching things in a natural moral grey area that gives the film a little bit of gristle for you to chew on.
The film’s not perfect, not since The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnaussus have I seen a film where the harsh digital stock disagrees so completely with the film’s overall aesthetic. Just as much of a problem are the conspicuous digital gore shots, even more baffling then usual given the film’s excellent practical effects. Coupled with the slack final fifteen minutes, which follow a terrific final showdown between pursuers and pursued, it’s enough to keep Centurion in the “Very Good” category rather then the “Instant Genre Classic” one.
But for action movie fans who prefer First Blood to Rambo II, Centurion is just what the doctor ordered in a slack year for good action films.