Realistic, visceral, and above all engaging, Centurion is one of those very atmospheric and contained historical epics. It follows the fate of the lost 9th legion, a legion that really existed, and what could’ve happened to them. The sleek opening credits excellently set the mood for what’s about to follow. A game of cat and mouse with several reversals of the roles. And I’m sure you’re going to notice another thing during those credits. Centurion features one hell of a cast led by Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. While Olga Kurylenko probably stole the show here as Etain, the wild Pict tracker, I also loved the supporting cast.
The opening battle shows just how brutal and nasty the visuals are going to be in this movie. This comes as no surprise as the director is none other than Neil Marshal of his Dog Soldiers and The Descent fame. So, we’ve even got that horror vibe going on. They used their budget wisely, shooting on location and without almost any CGI. The landscapes of Centurion are truly stunning. Those mountains look so rugged and inhospitable that you start wondering who the fuck would want to live there? And this brings us to the aspect of the movie I enjoyed the most, The Picts.
It was so interesting to think about their culture, customs and fortitude although we only caught a glimpse of them in this movie. Did you know that they were mostly naked and didn’t wear any armor? Just imagine a bunch of warriors completely nude and covered in blue paint rushing towards you wielding huge weapons.
The Roman army was fucked from the get-go, I can tell you that. The historical comparisons don’t stop there as “the battle”, and you’ll know exactly which one it is, is also based on true events. Although they’ve happened several hundred miles away during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
We find Centurion Quintus Dias half-naked and wounded running through the snow. He tells us that this is neither the beginning nor the end of his story. He was the only survivor of a brutal massacre that happened at his garrison. Dias barely escapes and runs into General Titus Virilus dispatched to this area. He and his men are here to bring order to the region and Dias joins them. They’re looking for the Pict king Gorlacon, not knowing that he’s also looking for them.
I know that narration is a difficult thing to pull off in this type of movie but they got away with it. It feels like you’re hearing a journal written by someone who lived through all these events. And these were quite unforgiving times as witnessed by numerous decapitations, severed limbs and over 200 liters of fake blood used during the production. I also have to add that Centurion at times felt like Lord of the Rings. You have this group of people trying to survive in an inhospitable land and make it to safety.
There’s even one scene that feels like it’s directly lifted from the first part, The Fellowship of The Ring. However, these guys are tough and battle-hardened veterans with personalities that come from such an experience. So, you might feel that the characters here are not that likable. They carry the failures of the world they live in perhaps too bluntly. But sometimes you just have to be blunt to get the message across.
Finally, you should know that there’s a movie you can watch immediately after you’ve finished this one. The Eagle follows the efforts of another group of soldiers to recover the lost Roman eagle standard. It’s not as good as this one but it’s still worth watching. Especially since there are so few of these movies.
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, JJ Feild, David Morrissey, Ulrich Thomsen
Fun Facts: The production crew had to use Norwegian army snowmobiles to access some of the location because the terrain was so bad.