A poor excuse for violence
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, September 3, 2010
The terrific Irish actor Michael Fassbender delivered an electrifying breakthrough performance as IRA activist Bobby Sands in the 2008 movie "Hunger," but he's probably more familiar to people who saw his debut in "300," that pulpily delicious celebration of manflesh and ancient Greek history. A supernaturally pumped-up, square-jawed Fassbender returns to those roots in "Centurion," which finds him playing yet another soldier, this time a Roman, fighting Pict tribesmen in 2nd-century Britain.
Like "300" and "Braveheart" before that, "Centurion" uses its historical context as little more than speculative scaffolding on which to hang its true mission: to efficiently cram as much gnashing, gashing and arterial bloodletting as possible into an hour and a half. Written and directed by Neil Marshall ("The Descent"), "Centurion" bears the high-contrast, de-saturated tones that so many filmmakers are using these days to depict ancient times, the better to make its rivers of red blood run even more visibly.
Wielding axes, spears, swords and their own unbreakable fists, the ruthless Romans engage the equally savage Picts in skirmishes that routinely end in beheadings, disarmings and random acts of running-through. The proceedings would be utterly without interest were it not for the stellar cast Marshall has enlisted, which in addition to Fassbender features David Morrissey and Dominic West. Onetime Bond girl Olga Kurylenko plays a smoky-eyed Pict tracker who smolders wordlessly as she pursues the small band of Romans led by Fassbender's redoubtable fighter; Imogen Poots plays an unlikely love interest, a witch whose tribal identity doesn't stop her from succumbing to his irresistible integrity, bravery and charm.
Ritualistic and reductive, "Centurion" wraps itself in talk of duty and honor, but really it's just another cinematic death-trip. Fans of big-screen video games might dig it, but for the rest of us -- even Fassbender's most devoted fans -- it's the Picts.
Contains sequences of strong bloody violence, grisly images and profanity.