Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DVD Review: Centurion (2009)

Magnet Releasing / Magnolia Home Entertainment

DIRECTOR: Neil Marshall
CAST: Michael Fassbender (Centurion Quintus Dias), Dominic West (General Titus Flavius Virilius), Olga Kurylenko (Etain), Noel Clarke (Macros), Liam Cunningham (Brick), David Morrissey (Bothos), JJ Feild (Thax), Dimitri Leonidas (Leonidas), Imogen Poots (Arianne), Ulrich Thomsen (Gorlacon), David Legeni (Vortix), Axelle Carolyn (Aeron)
TAGLINE: Fight or Die

SYNOPSIS: AD 117. The Roman Empire stretches from Egypt to Spain, and East as far as the Black Sea. But in northern Britain, the relentless onslaught of conquest has ground to a halt in face of the guerrilla tactics of an elusive enemy: the savage and terrifying Picts. Quintus Dias (Fassbender), sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus’ (West) legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the earth. However, when the legion is ambushed and Virilus is taken captive, Quintus faces a desperate struggle to keep his small platoon alive behind enemy lines. Enduring the harsh terrain and evading their remorseless Pict pursuers, the band of soldiers race to rescue their General and to reach the safety of the Roman frontier.

FILM: Neil Marshall is one of my favorite genre filmmakers today and has been since his debut with the action-horror film DOG SOLDIERS (2002), a great entry into the werewolf pantheon. He then went on to make THE DESCENT (2005) about a group of spelunking women trapped in a cave with carnivorous creatures and then the genre mash-up DOOMSDAY (2008) which received  negative press for borrowing heavily from John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and MAD MAX (1979). That was the point though, it's an homage to classic genre films and it completely rocked. His latest entry is the  swords and sandal battle-epic CENTURION (2010).

Centurion is a stripped-down battle epic depicting the Roman Empire's Ninth Legion as they crusade to eradicate the Picts, a united band of Celtic tribes in the highlands of Scotland. They've perfected a unique style of guerrilla warfare that proves to be quite troubling for the Romans. The Ninth Legion led by General Virilius (West) are joined by Centurion Quintas Dias whom they've rescued from the Picts after he was taken prisoner during a raid on his Roman frontier fort. While on march against their enemy the Legion are ambushed by the Pict and a bloody battle ensues. It begins as flaming boulders break through the Roman line of defense and the Picts savagely assault the Romans. Only a handful survive the battle and led by Quintas Dias they make a desperate attempt to recover General Virilus, whose been taken prisoner, and return to the safety of the Roman frontier. Michael Fassbender is great as Quintas and I count myself as a fan. Aside from appearing in films like 300 (2006), EDEN LAKE (2008) and Quentin Tarantino's WW2 epic INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) he's set to portray Magneto in the upcoming X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and possibly Peter Jackson's THE HOBBIT. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on.

During the attempt to free Virilus from the Picts one of the Roman soldiers kills the young son of the Pict leader Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) who swears vengeance and sends the huntress Etain in pursuit of the fleeing Romans to claim their heads. Etain (Klrylenko) is a mute tracker whose sworn vengeance against the Romans herself for the rape/murder of her mother and family. She is a skilled warrior and has uncanny tracking abilities. After Fassbender's Quintus it's Kurylenko's portrayal of Etain that is my second favorite character in the film, she's merciless and completely bad-ass. Good storytelling from Marshall, I really enjoyed the camaraderie amongst the Romans, great characters though nothing too deep, more well-developed caricatures - and that's all I needed. I must also mention Dominic West who gives a commanding performance as the respected and beloved General Virilus. My least favorite aspect of the majority of swords and sandals films is the usually extended running time and the long lulls in action but Centurion really gets to the meat of the story without being bogged down by a lot of melodramatic fluff.

Marshall  excels at survival-horror and Centurion is one gigantic chase film set in the beautiful Scottish Highland of north Britain. The battle scenes are brilliantly bloody and full of vivid bloodletting.  A good amount of the blood in Centurion is CGI but it is well rendered, thick and voluminous and it looks great. Limbs are severed as heads are cleaved, heads on pikes, and just a ton of sheer physical brutality. During these scenes people are popping like blood filled balloons and if that's your thing you'll not be disappointed, great gore. I love the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy but you can only watch people walk and run for so long before you wanna see some heads roll and Centurion does not disappoint in that respect.

A small issue for me with the film was I found myself rooting for the Picts. The film is designed so that we identify with the Romans but in the back of my mind I wanted to cheer on the Picts who were farmers and common folk forced to take up arms against the mighty Roman Empire to defend their homeland and way of life. Regardless, history shows the Pict were victorious over the Roman Empire in the end, so there's that.

DVD: The Centurion Region 1 DVD from Magnet Releasing is presented in the anamorphic scope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it gorgeously captures the magnificent terrain of northern Britain and the bloody battlefields. The film has a 5.1 Dolby Digital EX soundtrack that really kicks in during the bloody and brutal battle scenes. The DVD is well-stocked with over 3 hours of supplemental materials including a great 4-part behind-the-scenes featurette. My only nit-picky complaint is that there are no English subtitles. Special Features include:

- Blood, Fire and Fury: Behind the Scenes of Centurion (26:22)
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary (7:57)
- Outtakes (6:14)
- Interviews with Cast & Crew - Neil Marshall, Robert Jones, Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke (25:30)
- Behind the Scenes Footage (11:11)
- Photo Galleries (4:15)
- HDNet: A Look at Centurion (4:48)
- Commentary with Neil Marshal and Crew (98 min)
- Trailer Gallery - Monsters, The Oxford Murders, Barry Munday, I'm Still Here, The Walking Dead (9:09)

VERDICT: Centurion is an adventurous action-packed historical epic full of battle worn soldiers spilling blood at every turn. I love Neil Marshall's filmography and I think this is his most well crafted film yet but the best is yet to come from this talented writer-director. A very high recommend from me, get this one now.
 **** (4 out of 5 stars)