Sunday, November 06, 2011
Released a year and a half ago in the UK, I was unable to find a theatre showing Centurion, which was disappointing as I love Roman-inspired media and was curious to see the brutality the film had to offer. Having recently fired up a Netflix trial account, I was pleased to see it present as a new release and last night I finally gave it a watch.
Set in 117 AD, Centurion stars Michael Fassbender as Quintus Dias, the lone survivor of a Roman fortified camp successfully raided by Pict warriors. As the Roman Empire has conquered the province of Britain they are finding it difficult to further advance into Caledonia (modern Scotland), and Agricola (Paul Freeman) the governor of Britain, dispatches the Ninth Legion to deal with the Pict menace once and for all.
In reality, the fascination surrounding the Ninth Legion is that around this time, they simply disappeared. Roman records are quite thorough, and the Ninth simply disappears from these records leading many to speculate about their fate. Centurion looks at one possible circumstance, that the entire Legion was wiped out in Britain or Caledonia.
In the film, the Ninth is commanded by Legate Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), and he is appointed a Pict scout named Etain (Olga Kurylenko) by Agricola to lead him in the quest to find the Pictish king, Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) and wipe him out. During the journey the Ninth Legion discovers Dias who escaped his Pict captors somehow, and they re-instate him as a Centurion of their legion.
As can be expected, the Ninth Legion marched into disaster and was all but wiped out by Pictish forces. Surviving once again, Dias must take command of the few men left and lead them on an attempt to rescue Virilus, who was taken alive.
Overall, Centurion isn't a bad B flick. It features some good action and excessive violence, which works well for the time period depicted, but the narrative is a bit rushed and while I generally got to know the key characters I admittedly didn't end up remembering most of their names. There are also a few odd plot devices, such as Dias escaping capture the first time which wasn't shown. One minute he was imprisoned in a Pict camp, the next he was running for his life. As I said, he escaped somehow.
The film also suffers during it's mid-section, lagging a bit as the remainder of the Ninth attempts to flee back to Roman territory and a budding romance springs up. The chase by Pictish hunters drags a bit, and the romance wasn't unwelcome but just wasn't properly developed. It felt midway that Centurion was struggling for it's narrative identity now that large scale infantry battles were out of the question, and as a result the overall product suffers.
I really enjoyed the costumes and props featured in the film, as they were very detailed and relatively historically accurate. The cinematographer was strong capturing the wonderful landscapes cleanly and crisply, and the sound track was inspired and worked well to heighten tension and to score other moments.
In truth the major issue was the film's pacing, as more character development and less rushing from point to point would have served to form a much stronger connection to both protagonists and antagonists. A more consistent tone to the plot and a bit of tightening in the middle would have done wonders, combined with enhanced character development, and we would have had a truly dramatic film.
While I would not recommend the film at full theatre price, as a rental or viewed off of Netflix it was an enjoyable time. No Gladiator, mind you, but certainly entertaining and to a point, historically informative.