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Friday, September 03, 2010  

M. Ovie Reviews: Centurion

Chao sent me a text inviting me to come meet him at the other art house theater in town on a night so busy that I nearly forgot to show up. Which, given how much I love movies, is a pretty busy night.

I wasn't as busy as the guy in Centurion, though. That dude had his hands full, when they weren't tied together. Remember the British officer from Inglourious Basterds who nearly lost World War II because he forgot which fingers Germans use to signal the number three? That's Michael Fassbender and he's the lead in this, the titular centurion, but he's often upstaged by Dominic West from The Wire as a charismatic general, Bond girl Olga Kuryenko as a deeply scarred mute who will fuck you up, and the character played by 28 Weeks Later's Imogen Poots, an actress whose name would be good for an extra letter grade if I gave letter grades. And that's not even counting the character that dominates the majority of scenes right from the first frame, that being the surprisingly spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands. The opening credits basically float Fringe-like over snowswept mountains that make Middle-Earth look like Kansas. I didn't even know Scotland had that shit.

As you might guess from the title, Centurion is set during the time of the Roman empire, a period with which I am an eminent authority by virtue of the fact that I recapped both seasons of Rome. Except Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo never show up, even though this is set only a century or two after their time.

It takes a while to figure out what kind of movie it is. At first it looks like a Vietnam or war-on-terror allegory, with a cadre of imperial soldiers far from home in a hostile landscape fighting a never-ending war against an enemy that doesn't follow their rules. Then there's a little light torture, and some politics, and an escape-slash-chase, and some more torture, and finally things settle into a groove with our small band of ragtag fugitives fleeing the second-century equivalent of an angry biker gang.

Although I appreciate the fact that this is a sword-and-sandals epic that leaves out the "epic" part, coming in at barely over an hour and a half, I also would have appreciated a little more time to get to know some of the secondary characters and figure out how to tell them apart. Maybe if I watched more English TV I could have kept them straight by thinking of them as "that guy from EastEnders" or "that guy from Doctor Who," only there were a couple dozen of each. Fortunately they had an obliging tendency to get themselves killed a lot, so that narrowed things down.

Which brings me to the fight scenes. Director Neil Marshall doesn't flinch from showing some pretty violent injuries and deaths. There are lots of edged weapons whickering through the air and skulls being cleaved fiercely in twain, and some stuff that's a lot more imaginative. If that's what you look for in a movie, I would recommend this. But I guess I'm getting to the age when I'd rather see a movie that's a reason for the fight scenes rather than the other way around (which is probably why Predators left me so cold.

In the end, what strikes me about this movie is how much stress and effort goes into a lot of stuff that ends up being just for nothing. It's very anti-Hollywood. Although if they really wanted to drive the message home, they could have had the courage of their convictions and gone through this obviously arduous shoot, killed off most of the cast in the process, and finally wrap it, only to hand it over to a distributor who would then bury it in a dumpster. On balance, however, I'm glad they didn't.

posted by M. Giant 5:24 AM 0 comments


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