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Britain, A.D. 117. Quintus Dias, the sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus' legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the Earth and destroy their leader, Gorlacon. Written by
The archer who shoots Bothos as he's riding toward Hadrian's Wall is director Neil Marshall, playing the character Osvaldus. See more »
The Romans used treated leather for making tents (water resistant), not canvas as shown in the movie. See more »
Centurion Quintus Dias:
My name is Quintus Dias. I am a soldier of Rome, and this is neither the beginning nor the end of my story.
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The end of the closing credits state that "This film is based on a 2000 year-old legend", referring to the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Hispana or Ninth Spanish Legion in Roman-occupied Britain around 117 CE. See more »
A group of Roman soldiers who survived an ambush are chased relentlessly by a hunting party of Picts. As with every other movie by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) this big screen epic attempts to mix the grittiness of European filmmaking with the entertainment values of Hollywood movie-making. And as is becoming signature with this director, Centurion pursues his tradition to feature very strong and memorable female characters.
While it is Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) who is the protagonist as the somewhat reluctant leader of our heroes, the most memorable character on screen is Etain, a Brigantian tracker played by Olga Kurylenko. Etain's tribe was massacred by the Romans and she took refuge with the Picts. Her backstory is a powerful device that explains all the hatred she has for Romans and the length she will go to exact revenge. Neil Marshall makes great use of actress Kurylenko and she literally eats the screen in almost every scene she is in, despite her character being mute. Etain reaches iconic status as far as I'm concerned, much like Karl Vreski (Die Hard).
The actual plot, despite its historical context, is less Gladiator and more Apocalypto. Several battles are extremely gritty, entering gory territory as blood flows. There are a lot of CGI sequences mixed with traditional effects but they do not detract from the experience too much. Quintus' bunch of survivors are portrayed by a group of effective actors but the movie's short length prevents much characterization. Where Marshall is more effective is in the portrayal of the Picts. In very few words, several characters stand out throughout the movie.
Everything is fairly entertaining but the movie never quite reaches classic epic status due to its short length and several incongruities. For instance, I still don't understand why two healthy and armed soldiers would run away from wolves, nor why wolves would pursue them (that simply flies in the face of anything we know about the behavior of wolves). Etain is also ordered to severe the heads of the men she is chasing but conveniently omits certain characters so that they survive their injuries, which makes no sense and is transparent bad writing. Likewise, when the Romans have a chance to steal or kill the Picts' horses, they simply ignore this opportunity. These plot holes add up pretty fast and detract from our experience, turning what could have been a classic into just a great pop corn flick.
But an entertaining pop corn flick it is, despite its faults! I wish Marshall would be slightly less ambitious, as it seems he is at his best working on smaller scale movies but he still has a knack to shoot fun films and create engaging characters. Special kudos for not glorifying the Roman empire and especially, for not portraying the Picts as clear-cut villains. Although the structure of the film firmly puts the Picts in the "baddies" slot, there are several hints and a lot of subtext that, on the contrary, showcases the Roman empire as bloodthirsty invaders, plotting backstabbers and savages themselves.
Every amateur of sword epic will want to see this one at least once, possibly several times.
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