That’s the plot of “Centurion,” an old–fashioned quest epic set in Roman Britain. Beautifully filmed, given a lyrical lilt by virtue of a poetic voice over narration and featuring the brutal, personal and graphic violence that is today’s cinematic style, it’s a B-movie with a hint of history to it.
Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) stars as Quintus Dias, a soldier we meet on the run, through the snows of Northern Britain. He’s bleeding. He’s half-naked. And the Picts, the fierce people who hadn’t yet learned to distill Scotch whiskey, are after him.
Quintus Dias narrates that this has become “a new kind of war, a war without honor, without end.” Draw your own modern parallels here.
We flash back to the ambushes that put Quintus on the run, the rough-and-tumble Ninth Legion, led by a two-fisted general played by Dominic West of “300.” The Roman governor (Paul Freeman of “Raiders of the Last Ark) sends the troops out to “sow the Earth with our dead,” and sure enough, only a mismatched handful of the ambushed soldiers survived. Quintus Dias must lead them back to the frontier to safety.
Writer-director Neil Marshall (“Doomsday, The Descent”) smartly anchored the film around Fassbender, who makes a fin hero. Marshall fills the supporting cast with sturdy British character players — David Morrissey and Liam Cunningham among them. He pits the survivors against one another and against the elements, and pushes the surviving soldiers through the wilds of northern Britain (the wilds of Spain substituted for it) with a fury.
One misstep in all this is the woodlands scout, played by Bond beauty Olga Kurylenko as all hair and eye shadow and editing that doesn’t cover her discomfort at all the horseback riding and brutal fighting of the early scenes. She grows into the part’s fierceness — eventually. The equally lovely Imogen Poots shows up as a woodlands exile who may be friend or foe to the fleeing soldiers.
“Centurion” is a B-picture, predictable story arc and predictable action beats. You just know they’re going to have to leap off a cliff into a river, at some point. But it’s a darned entertaining outing from a director who knows action, loves narration and doesn’t share Hollywood’s fear of period pieces that don’t involve Greek gods.
See for Yourself
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West, David Morrissey
Director: Neil Marshall
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Industry Rating: R for sequences of strong bloody violence, grisly images and language.