Centurion

The two people I saw this movie with at a screening both disliked it. So I can reiterate right away that old cautionary phrase: ” this movie is not for everyone.” What’s important to this review is that I loved it. Sure, it was gory–it is about war. Full of clichés–oh, so what? They worked. The ending is predictable–thank goodness, a happy ending after all the bad stuff. There are no big stars–frankly, not having star names made the story more believable. And it’s not a big movie — that’s what I liked the best about it. Instead of a massive epic, director Neill Marshall (Dog Soldiers) made Centurion into an accessible tale about a few men–and women–in ancient times– that relates without much effort to what is happening today.

I loved the story–a band of Roman soldiers from the legendary Ninth Legion fights for their lives in the harsh mountain terrain of Scotland against the native guerilla fighters, the fierce Picts. If you’re at all interested in the history of the Roman Empire or Scotland’s history, you’ll like this imaginary look at the how the Romans tried to push into Pict territory and got their comeuppance. Myth has it that the Ninth Legion, which had fought previously all over the Roman empire, mysteriously disappeared in Scotland in 117.A.D.

Ah, the poor Roman soldiers stationed in Scotland. They hated the cold, dreary weather of Britain and the barren, snow covered mountains in the North. Their beloved commander, Virilus (Dominic West), inspired them however, to do their best to carry out Rome’s orders. But the meticulously trained Roman legions were no match for the creative tactics of the Picts and no Roman soldier was prepared for the ferocity with which the native soldiers fought. One day, the Picts slaughtered the Ninth Legion, leaving only a handful of soldiers alive. First, they try valiantly to rescue their commander who’d been captured by the Picts, but they must leave him to his awful fate when they can’t cut him from his bonds.

Then the new commander of the small band, Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), proud son of a gladiator, promises his men he will lead them home to sunny Italy. Thus their odyssey begins. Cold, starvation, injury, wild wolves, and of course the merciless Picts, now lead by Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a phenomenal tracker who can spot the traces of a hated Roman soldier from leagues away. Vowing vengeance against the Romans for the way she and her family were treated years ago, she is an unstoppable foe. Plus she has great face paint and lime-smeared locks, fabulous fur-draped outfits, rides a horse like a goddess and throws a spear like a demon. She is in essence one bad villain and the movie is made unique because of her ferocious and unlikely presence.

There’s also a lonely necromancer, Aeron (Axell Carolyn), who lives in a hut by herself, growing her own food and foraging for healing herbs. She and Etain have no sisterly bond since Aeron’s bad treatment by the Picts has given her loyalty to no tribe.

As we learn, not all the Roman soldiers are brave and noble like Quintas Dias and Virilus. The secondary players prove that soldiers can be just as venal as other men and betrayal is the dark side to brotherhood.

Plenty of realistic action. Lots of heart-tugging male camaraderie and even a little romance. Two great women’s parts. Stunning costumes especially among the Picts. Rugged scenery that is rarely seen in movies. A story worth remembering. Ah, yes, I liked it a lot.

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