Centurion 2010 UK
Directed by Neil Marshall
Screening at Cinemas now
I’m beginning to think that British writer/director Neil Marshall is beginning to lead a bit of a charmed life... at least in respect to his amazing cinematic track record. Centurion is his fourth feature film following on the heels of his previous box office successes: Dog Soldiers (a really great werewolves VS the military movie), The Descent (a group of women trapped in an unexplored cave system trying not to be slaughtered and eaten by cave dwelling monsters movie... and one of the greatest horror movies of modern times... the cobbled together throwaway sequel did not live up to Marshall’s original) and Doomsday (a pretty good blend of Escape from New York cross pollinated with Mad Max 2 set in Scotland - a pretty solid movie with some nice, underused ideas amidst all of the familiar cliches which, perhaps, deserved to be a little better known over this side of the pond than it currently is).
His films have all done “quite well” in the UK and, apparently, quite phenomenally well in the US... making him one of our more successful exports I reckon.
Centurion is his first real stab at a non-sci-fi/non-horror movie, being as it is set in, where else, Scotland at the time nearing the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. It’s basically the story of seven Roman soldiers stuck behind enemy lines, trying to survive being hunted by ferocious Picts as they try to make their way to what turns out to be a fairly dubious definition of safety.
The film is headlined by Michael Fassbender (so good in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds), ably supported by a handful of Marshall regulars (such as the solid bear of a man, Liam Cunningham) and also... is it... yes it is... it’s Mickey from Doctor Who. Mickey Mick Mickey! Hello Mickey! Um... sorry, just had a moment there... the film also features successful writer/director Noel (alright there Mickey!) Clark as one of the Roman soldiers and as usual he does a good job... would have liked to see him used a bit more prominently but whatever. You can’t headline everybody. I’ll go and see his new film he’s written and directed in a few weeks time... he’s probably got more of a role in that one.
So anyway... where was I before somebody slipped me a Mickey (typecast muchly?)... oh yeah... Centurion is not what one might call a “woman’s movie”. There is basically not much plot (although there is a quick stab at love interest in the last half an hour of the movie to square things with the American box office) and it’s basically a movie which features lots of bloodthirsty, goriness of Romans and Picts slaughtering each other... and the occasional bit of Romans fighting amongst themselves when there’s no Picts around.
So... big on slicing and dicing, not bad on quick character sketches that let you know where you are... not so hot on story development but it’s not that kind of movie.
Couple of minor grumbles though...
Now don’t get me wrong, the handling of the “lads” in Dog Soldiers is more than enough to show that this director can write and direct perfect dialogue scenes... he’s a genius at it. Right up there with Tarantino for really connecting with his audience. However, it is my belief that Neil Marshall is, basically, a great director of silent cinema. Lots of sequences with no dialogue, beautifully handled to move the action along and no speech necessary at all. A very visual director in his approach to his craft. Which is why I was a bit miffed that he has a Michael Fassbender voice-over going on through the movie, more often than not telling you what is happening when there’s absolutely no need of any explanation whatsoever for anyone with an IQ greater than that of a lemon. It was really quite annoyingly unnecessary at times and it seemed to me that it might well have been a producers fear of leaving dialogue off for long sequences of film that we have to thank for that. Only guessing mind you. Would be interesting to know if the voice-over narrative was in the original script.
The other thing is... there were a couple of disorienting jumps in the narrative when you weren’t quite sure what was what. Little revelations like... “Oh. They obviously didn’t all run off in the same direction then because there’s only three of the in this scene” might actually have been better served with some of that annoying narrative which was strangely absent when it was needed most. In spite of what I said about Marshall’s visual genius, I feel like some of the scene transitions could have been handled a little better.
These are really minor gripes though... I thought Centurion was a great little movie which I suspect will be rediscovered (along with all of Marshall’s previous moments of cinematic genius) in a nice, big, healthy retrospective of his work some twenty years from now.
Neil Marshall...Veni, vidi, vici.