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Time Out New York Project: Issue #778/779, August 26-September 8, 2010
Dir. Neil Marshall. 2010. R. 97mins. Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko.
“This is neither the beginning nor the end of my story,” says Quintus Dias (Fassbender) at, well, the beginning and the end of the grisly, gory Centurion. As long as the blood’s pumping through this determined Roman soldier’s veins, the character knows that his res are going to be perpetually in medias, but that’s not going to stop him from trying to complete, with much lethal effort, whatever quest is currently at hand. Quintus’s testosterone-slathered philosophy comes courtesy writer-director Neil Marshall, who occasionally brings this guys-on-the-run actioner, set in 2nd-century Britain, within spitting distance of its superior cited influences: Walter Hill’s bayou chase film, Southern Comfort, and Mel Gibson’s sanguine Mayan epic, Apocalypto.
Marshall has assembled a terrific cast of barkers and bellowers — everyone from The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty (West, as the appropriately named General Virilus) to Mickey from Doctor Who (scowler extraordinaire Noel Clarke). And he gives the great Fassbender a chance to flex his sensitive yet still ruthless sword ’n’ sandal muscles. Quintus is the kind of guy you’d unquestioningly follow to hell and back — and what hell his band of macho men must face after their legion is nearly destroyed by the savage Pict tribe and they attempt to return to Rome.
The wintry landscape is unforgiving; flesh-rending arrows and spears are a constant, unforeseen threat; and there’s a buxom lass, Etain (Kurylenko), who’ll gladly behead them in between striking some droolworthy Heavy Metal cover poses. Would that Marshall’s sense for sound and image measured up to his pointed pulp instincts. Unfortunately, everything has been digitally graded to an off-putting slate gray, hacked to disjointed pieces and subwoofered into the red. It’s prime B-movie material put through the Ridley Scott Cuisinart.—Keith Uhlich