Movie Review: Centurion

Neil Marshall's Roman adventure feels like a computer game from 2035


Cert: 15, 97 mins

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Noel Clarke, Olga Kurylenko

What would ancient Rome have been like if everyone talked a little bit more like a mockney geezer than you might expect? That question, and others, is answered in Centurion, Neil Marshall‘s historical halfway-house between the graphic videogame violence of 300, and the regular violence of, you know, death that actually involves humans and hurts quite a lot.

The overall effect – as this tale of the disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Britain shows – is one of a videogame from 2035 that someone else is playing for you.

The dialogue won’t be that much better (sample line: “Two years on the frontier – this is truly the asshole of the world”). And the plot will still be pretty basic – this is the simply the tale of a rag-tag bunch of Roman soldiers (among them The Wire‘s Dominic West, Michael Fassbender and Noel Clarke) who are fighting the savages in Scotland, find themselves the only ones left after a slaughter of their legion, and have to try to get home before the Scots (Quantum of Solace‘s Olga Kurylenko among them) catch up.

But boy will it look good – all sweeping Scottish scenery and lush snow-topped mountain ranges. It’ll almost look real. Alas, they still won’t put too much work into the characters, so you still won’t really be bothered about who lives or dies, but on the other hand, the violence will really be full-on.

The latter is perhaps least surprising, considering this is the director of Dog Soldiers and Doomsday, but Marshall seems to have distilled violence down to such an art that not only does it not really feel violent any more (though to be fair, Tarantino was the one to get us on this track: violence that knows everything about spectacle but nothing about suffering), but it’s not even that exciting either.

One notable fight scene sees Marshall dispense almost entirely with the idea of swords clashing, or spears missing, or arrows hitting shields. I guess we’re meant to assume that’s happening too, but Marhsall‘s not interested in it: we only see heads being crushed, spearing plunging deep, swords cleanly slicing limbs, and blood spurting out with vigour, the way the cinematographer would have wanted it.

It makes it all look like a rather fun – if easy – game. But I think I’ll wait for the console to play it on.

Stuart McGurk

3 out of 10

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