Director: Neil Marshall (2010)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko
Like 300 but with Romans instead of Spartans and a lot less speed ramping or homophobia. It does share a couple of that movie's actors in Michael Fassbender and Dominic West, and also probably a little racism (although the Romans do deserve everything they get). Centurion is primarily a men-on-a-mission movie, with a squad of Roman soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in Pict-infested Scotland. It shares a lot with all of director Neil Marshall's previous movies - primarily the camaraderie of Dog Soldiers and the urgency of Doomsday. If only he'd included a little of The Descent's heart, we'd be onto a winner.
But then The Descent is my hands-down favourite movie of the past ten years, so it might be a little unfair to let Centurion shoulder such expectations. Taken on its own merits, Centurion is a very good movie, chock full of excellent performances and impressively gory fight scenes. The cast are headed up by Michael Fassbender and Dominic West, who are reliably good as ever. Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is on lead villain duties, whilst there's a whole host of semi-famous Brit faces rounding things off. Doctor Who's Noel Clarke, an ex-Eastender and Four Lions' Riz Ahmed seem out of place, but David Morrissey and Liam Cunningham keep things respectably gruff and actorly.
The pace is quick and snappy, with Marshall offing characters with enough regularity to keep his audience interested and engaged. The Romans' motives and some of their actions make it hard for one to root for their survival, but by trapping them behind enemy lines, Marshall strips them of politics and the comfort of their army: they're just a small group of men, vastly outnumbered and trapped behind enemy lines. Enemy lines in Scotland, no less. Anyone with even a perfunctory knowledge of Scotland should know how terrifying that concept is. Trapped in Scotland, with the terrible weather (whilst topless, in Fassbender's case), where comedians make jokes about disabled babies and civilians kick the shit out of already flaming terrorists. Marshall's vision of Scotland in Centurion is like how 300 would have been if the Spartans had been dumped in modern-day Afghanistan with drawings of the prophet Muhammad stuck to their foreheads. Frank Miller could never have made Centurion because, simply put, the Romans get their shit thoroughly handed to them on a plate. But you don't really mind watching that, because the Romans deserve it.
There are historical inconsistencies and it feels somewhat vacuous, but overall Centurion is a strong, thoroughly enjoyable movie, masterfully delivered by one of England's best new directors.