Top positive review
A good movie mixing peplum with an action and survival "western". Plus grandiose settings and an INCREDIBLE Olga Kurylenko!
on 20 July 2010
I give this movie five stars even if I did not like some details. I liked most of "Centurion" very much and many scenes are simply unforgettable! This review contains SPOILERS!
The action is set in year 117 AD, in the country which today is called Scotland but which Romans named Caledonia. This harsh and inhospitable land was inhabited by tribes which Romans called first Caledonians and later Picts. Caledonia was the only part of main British island which was not controlled by Roman Empire and Caledonians/Picts resisted fiercely all attempts of conquest - and in fact, in Ist and IInd centuries, frequently attacked Roman part of the island. The movie describes an episode of those Pictish wars, although because of lack of precise sources, it is not exactly based on real events and the names of the main leaders (Roman general Virilus and Pictish king Gorlacon) are fictive.
To avoid spoilers I will not say much more about the plot - but please be aware that this is a very brutal and bloody movie, full of scenes of realistically described close quarters combat, but also of torture and murder. I believe this realism is ultimately an asset, but many people (and I think most women) will certainly find "Centurion" too shocking to watch. Under no circumstances children or younger teenagers should be allowed to see this movie - and I would in fact deeply recommend to restrict it only to those who are aged 18 years or more.
"Centurion" shows a great deal of incredibly beautiful images of nature in northern part of Scotland (especially Cairngorms mountains and Badenoch district), attempting to show how did it look in times when its population was still scarce and nature mostly remained wild and untouched, with wolves and deers more easily met than humans. The forest scenes were filmed in natural parks in England. Those settings alone are a good reason to see "Centurion" as they are simply impossible to describe - you simply must see them! For that reason also I would really recommend to watch it on the biggest possible screen.
Actors play well and the characters are interesting and well thought. Michael Fassbinder plays the main hero, centurion Quintus Dias, and his performance is very honest. However, two other actors steal the show from him: Dominic West and especially Olga Kurylenko.
Dominic West already showed how versatile actor he was playing the ambiguous character of detective McNulty in "The Wire" but also the abject Spartan politician Theron in "300". Here he portrays the Roman general Virilus in another excellent performance. It was a pleasure to watch him.
But the REAL performance is that of Olga Kurylenko, who plays Etain, a silent, never smiling Briton tracker/scout working for Romans. Etain can not speak (when she was a child her tongue was cut off) but still, her character dominates the whole movie - and it is not only because of the great beauty of Ms Kurylenko, as she is mostly wrapped in furs and her face is partly hidden by blue war paintings. Really, I found this character fascinating and totally unforgettable and I am certain she will mark you too!
And finally a special mention for Imogen Poots, a very cute and absolutely lovely British actress who plays Pictish sorceress, Arian, and the gorgeous Belgian actress Axelle Carolyn (who is also the wife of the director of the movie, Neil Marshal), who plays Pictish female warrior, Aeron. This importance accorded to women is another point in favor of this movie. In Pictish society women were mostly equals of men and most of them were also warriors, to the point that some fought in battles carrying babies attached on their backs!
Now, the one thing I did not totally like in this movie is the flawed representation of the way in which roman legions marched, camped and especially fought. When watching "Centurion" you must inevitably ask the question "But how come those guys could conquer so many countries and build a three continent empire?" The answer is, those guys did not - but the real legions did, because they made war totally differently than pictured in this film. And this is a pity, because there clearly was an effort to stick to historical reality - like for example the fact that in this movie Roman soliders wear "lorica segmentata" armour, which in those times just replaced the previously used "lorica hamata" (chain mail). But the effort was not made when the tactics are described.
I will just focus on the biggest issue - fighting tactics. Roman regular infantry was so dangerous because it used a mixture of missile and close combat weapons. The enemy was first engaged with highly specialized heavy javelins, the "pilum", of which every infantryman carried two: one lighter and one heavier. The lighter javelin was thrown first (because it had a longer range), then the heavier and then only the legion would close the ranks in a shield wall and engage the enemy with short but quite heavy Roman swords "gladius". The important thing is that Roman swords were perfectly adapted for stabbing (with an upward thrust) but rather poorly suited for slashing. Or in "Centurion" NOT EVEN ONE "pilum" is thrown and in fact Roman soldiers do not even carry them. Instead all of them have classical long spears - which in reality would be used only by a small minority of eldest soldiers (whose arms were not so strong and their eyes not so good anymore) for protection against a possible cavalry charge. Also Roman soldiers slash wildly at their enemies with their short swords, without even trying to use them efficiently...
There is also the little point of a general who walks through hostile wild country without any flank guard, even if he has some nimble footed auxiliary light infantry suited for this task - one of the heroes, Leonidas, is after all a lightly equipped Greek slinger. And of course any such expedition should relay for all reconnaissance only on one indigenous tracker and two Roman cavalrymen, giving a total of three (yes, three!) horse riding scouts for the security of a whole army (the Ninth Legion and all its "auxillia").
However, although I certainly did not like that part of the movie, all the rest was so good and made on me such a strong impression, that I simply couldn't take one star off the rating. I loved this movie in cinema and I will certainly buy the DVD!