Neil Marshall’s Centurion is a fictional film based on the legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion, who are said to have marched thousands strong into the Scottish wilds to conquer the land from savage warriors known as the Picts…and allegedly disappeared without a trace. This film takes this historical mystery and turns it into a tale that is a fast paced and bloody action adventure about the slaughter of Rome’s 9th and the remaining handful of soldiers who are now fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. Adding fuel to their already perilous situation is that one of them murdered the Pict King’s son while they were infiltrating the Pict village and trying to rescue their captive general (Dominic West). Now they are stalked relentlessly through hostile territory by vengeful Pict warriors lead by vicious and cruel hunter Etain (Olga Kurylenko) and must fight for their lives every step of the way. Leading the beleaguered band is centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a rescued POW who is now forced to take command of the surviving members of Rome’s 9th in an effort to get to friendlier soil with their throats uncut.
As directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall, Centurion is a fast paced and savagely violent tale of survival on deadly ground. He gives us a group of noble heroes to root for and also instills the Picts with doses of savage menace making them a foe to be feared, as they hunt down the fleeing survivors. It’s a no nonsense action adventure that is filled with some gorgeous visuals courtesy of director Marshall and cinematographer Sam McCurdy and a lot of fierce and brutal action. Marshall gives us a lot of tension and suspense to go along with the battles and keeps things moving, but not too fast that we don’t get to know our characters enough to care.
As for the excellent cast, including Fassbender, West, Kurylenko and Walking Dead’s David Morrissey, they do well taking the characters from the scripted page and making them very three dimensional, and thus giving the film some added emotional resonance as this small group of survivors become quite endearing. We root and fear for them, as they are mercilessly pursued and cut down one by one.
Beautiful Scottish locations are host to the blood soaked story and with a reported $12 million budget, the film is far smaller scaled then 300 or Troy, but is all the more better for it, as our focus is on our embattled band of soldiers than epically scaled war scenes. Neil Marshall crafts a solid and entertaining action/adventure with refreshingly minimal CGI and no pretentious overindulgence. Highly recommended for fans of action and historical based drama.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) war axes!
SPECIAL BIRTHDAY EDITION!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY NEIL MARSHALL!
And to celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite new generation filmmakers, I review my favorite of his films! (Though, I like them all!)
THE DESCENT (2005)
Our chilling story begins with the tragic death of the husband and daughter of Sarah, (Shauna Macdonald) one of six adventure seeking friends. A year later, group leader, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), decides to take Sarah and the rest on an underground cave exploring expedition. But the overzealous Juno has tricked them into exploring a supposedly undiscovered system and soon they become trapped inside with no one but the cave’s carnivorous inhabitants knowing where they are.
Writer/director Neil Marshall creates a truly scary and suspenseful roller coaster ride as these six women get lost in this undiscovered system and worse yet, find out they are not alone. The Descent is a claustrophobic and tense experience even before the creatures show up. With the tension between group members and of the cave-in that traps them inside, the film would have been entertaining and satisfying enough had that been the extent of it’s story. But it is a horror film and cave dwelling carnivores soon show up and when they do, the real nightmare begins for our spelunking sweeties. One of the reasons Descent is so successful is that the women are all likable three dimensional characters and there is some really nice and realistic interaction and banter between them. They are a diverse and likable group and even Juno has her positive qualities though, her actions do make her very morally questionable. Marshall gets really good performances out of his sextet of heroines and It has impact when they come to harm. And Marshall doesn’t spare them, or us, when they do, it’s brutal and bloody. But these ladies also give as good as they get when it comes to fighting back and the last third is quite a bloodbath. Marshall also ups the ante by adding a personal conflict that develops between the two leads Sarah and Juno, that adds an extra dynamic and gives an extra dramatic punch to an already pulse pounding finale.
The production looks good and Marshall makes maximum use of his setting. The cave itself becomes a character as Marshall filmed the movie using only the light the girls themselves are using, to light the scenes. It gives a better illusion that the viewer is there with our heroines as they move through the underground labyrinth and creates a really claustrophobic atmosphere that adds to the suspense and dread. As for the cave’s inhabitants, they are kept in shadows and seen briefly, which keeps them mysterious and scary and Marshall even imbues them with a bit of character so they become more real to his audience and more than just monsters. The make-up and gore effects bringing these creatures and their carnage to gruesome life are also top notch.
Very intense, very scary, very gory and one of the best horror flicks of the last decade. Watch it in the dark, but not alone! Also staring Alex Reid as Beth, MyAnna Buring as Sam, Saskia Mulder as Rebecca and Nora-Jane Noone as Holly. Buring and Noone were also featured in Marshall’s fun Escape From New York/Road Warrior mash-up Doomsday (2008).
Birthday boy Neil Marshall also directed Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, Centurion, episodes of Game Of Thrones and is slated to helm the upcoming Hellboy reboot.
An intense and gory 4 cave critters!