With Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday, UK-born director Neil Marshall cemented his reputation as a B movie A-lister, an unapologetic genre hack able to invest what would otherwise be raw exploitation film knockoffs with just enough production value to escape the direct-to-DVD wasteland. As one might imagine, Centurion is little different. Ostensibly a story of Roman soldiers battling Scottish tribes in the 2nd Century CE, the picture is effectively more of the same: a tedious orgy of blood, guts, primal screams and epidemic dismemberment aimed squarely at the very same teenage boys the picture's R rating is meant to discourage. That, and a typically anemic release from genre distributor Magnet, should result in a hasty retreat from theaters in advance of a more coordinated VOD and DVD campaign, where Magnet and Magnolia are more at home.
Ever so loosely based on real events, Centurion stars Michael Fassbender as Quintus Dias, one of the lone survivors of an ambush that obliterates Rome's Ninth Legion just as it is preparing to tackle the tenacious Picts who have continuously stifled Rome's advance into the highlands that will someday be known as Scotland. Failing to rescue their captured general from Pict clutches, Quintas and his ragtag team of fellow survivors head southward in search of reliable Roman reinforcement, all the while pursued by a Pict hit squad hell-bent on revenge for the death of their leader's son.
All of this, of course, is superfluous in the extreme. Marshall's screenplay displays little aptitude for or interest in either history or technical accuracy. Anachronistic dialogue, happenstance plot turns and characters so thinly conceived as to be interchangeable all but counteract cinematographer Sam McCurdy's otherwise stalwart Cinemascope work. It's a hasty writing effort from a director who seems to regard scripts as little more than a list of things for actors to do while he and his effects team envelop them in blood and body parts. Blood rains, gore spurts and heads, limbs and assorted appendages fly across the screen like ticker-tape confetti in an orgiastic celebration of unrequited debauchery... none of it the least bit shocking, frightening, exhilarating, impactful or interesting.
To say that Marshall's technique is so low-brow it may as well be a moustache is being kind--at best this is the sort of lazy, ambitionless hackery that can lead both filmmakers and audiences to write off a genre for dead--or at least until a more skilled storyteller is able to do it right. To that end, fans of period films would be best served if Centurion and its shamelessly lazy writer/director disappeared as quickly and unceremoniously as the Ninth Legion.
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Andreas Wisniewski, Dominic West, David Morrissey, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, Riz Ahmed, JJ Field and Liam Cunningham
Director/Screenwriter: Neil Marshall
Producers: Christian Colson and Robert Jones
Genre: Period Action
Rating: R for sequences of strong bloody violence, grisly images and language.
Running time: 97 min
Release date: August 27 ltd.