Sometimes after I watch a movie, and typically it’s an action movie, I think to myself, “Some movies shouldn’t be reviewed.” I end up having a dozen or so unconnected words floating all whispy through my head like “pretty good” or “not bad” or “serviceable” or “entertaining.” These movies are the opposite of thought-provoking, they are thought-choking. I can’t remember anything from the movie but moments. It’s what I imagine an acid trip might be like, flashes of images and a lot of blah blah blah blah. Usually, I then turn to the old checklist—it’s not a real checklist, just an unofficial remembered device—and think “performance, story, pacing, music, direction, dialogue…” Some movies constipate me even more than that. Centurion (2010) is like that.
Centurion Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender), of the Roman Army, is stationed in a British frontier garrison in the far north. The garrison is attacked and he is taken prisoner by the Pict leader and Sting look-alike, Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). Quintas escapes from the Picts and runs about as far as he can until he meets up with the passing 9th Legion led by man of the people, General Virilus (Dominic West). Virilus has been sent by the local poobah to wipe out these turbulent picts and he’s given a converted Pict guide, Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who is quite deadly. Quintas tags along, but in relatively short order, there’s an ambush and virtually the entire legion is destroyed—all but Quintas, Bothos (David Morrissey), Thax (JJ Feild), Brick (Liam Cunningham), and some others I can’t be bothered to name. Also, Virilus is taken alive, so the named fellows and three others go to rescue him. When that doesn’t work, they have to run for it and the Picts track them down with a view to tickling them to death. That basically continues for the rest of the movie until there are some ends tied up.
Actors: Very good. They aren’t exactly pushing any envelopes, but the number of quality actors involved is impressive.
Dialogue: Functional and occasionally funny
Music: Unnoticeable (as it is supposed to be)
Story: A bit mixed work from writer/director Neil Marshall. This is probably what causes me the most trouble. It does not cohere to a traditional outline. Either that or the traditional outline is so poorly balanced that it almost looks to be intentional. I’m guessing that’s the case. You’ve got West here, who is quite good, and so they give him a lot of screen time. But then, he’s just this guy who’s supposed to draw the action to him and transition the seven dwarves into the chase. Instead, what turns out to be the main segment of the story comes in at about a third. That’s not necessarily a bad proportion, but the rest of it has three or four or five subplots in it to turn this thing into a miniseries. It was almost demented in its editing. Most of them I liked, which was the weird thing. Like the romantic option with Fassbender and a faux-witch (Imogen Poots) which is dropped in there, upon reflection, like airmail and yet, in the moment, fits just fine and they totally make it work. If anything, I wanted more of that. I never want more romance in a period action movie. That rule has been broken.
Action: The action is also branded with this sense of minor dementia. Blood, blood everywhere, but not a drop on the clothes. Limbs come off, as do heads and parts of heads and parts of limbs with disgusting realism. Realism to a point. The violence of this movie is extreme and consistent. And while a squeamish person would call it gratuitous, I think, I could almost believe there was meaning behind the violence. The action portrayed in the movie happened and things were hacked off and blood was spilled. But there’s something in the way it was portrayed—I’m going to blame it on the close-ups of these acts of horrific violence—made me believe it was, at best, only partially meaningful. I admit that that may be unfair because special effects are going to be done deliberately and up-close, but still.
Ultimately, I think there was something here—actually, quite a bit—and certainly had some great talent involved, but did not pull it off. If you’re looking for a good ol’ time, then you will basically find it here. Want to see something violent with the boys? This is for you. Thanks, Netflix.
Oh, and final thought, the titles started kind of cool, but then everybody got the same, incredibly large and intrusive embedded font. Come on. This wasn’t an event movie, don’t use flying credits. Know thyself.
When the credits intrude,
You can be sure the movie’ll be crude.
I can take your blood and gore,
But you’ve got to prove what it’s for.
My ultimate judgment that I render
Will be wholly improved by Fassbender.
There’s no need to be hurryin’
It’s fine, but not great, is Centurion.