Well, I watched CENTURIAN last night, and I have to say I just about loved it. It was dabbling in similar territory to the (somewhat) unfairly maligned KING ARTHUR, but it managed to take that film's sense of atmosphere, location and time and give it a thrilling energy of it's own. There was no narrative fat, the story was lean and relentlessly paced and I for one found it to be one of the best action films I've seen all year, and that's not entirely just about the fact that I'm a classics geek. There was a palpable sense of danger to each encounter with the Picts. The ferocity of the combat they engaged in called to mind wild animals tearing apart their prey, and so you had no problem understanding why Fassbender and company would choose to run instead of to fight. In most modern action movies, such a move by our "heroes" would be unheard of, but here, you were biting your nails hoping that their flight from the fight would be successful.
Some people have mentioned that the action was hard to follow or used too many close up gore shots. I'd have to disagree. While I often find that "unrated" cuts which feature gory insert shots do indeed wind up making the geography of the action rather incomprehensible, in this case, the gore was planned to be there from moment one and so it never became a distraction or confused the action. You needed that gore, and the barbarity of the ambush scene, in order to make a movie about running away from the people who perpetrated those horrors exciting. You needed to see the threat, and Marshall did a fine job of showing it.
I had a few small problems, and they were basically sort of script level things that didn't really add up into a big deal. While I enjoyed the "this is neither the beginning nor the end of my tale" line (so many movies start just there, at the end of the story and flash back, it was kind of a relief to know that wasn't what Marshall had in mind), it seemed a bit clunky, starting the way it did. It seemed like it started with Fassbender running through the snow simply because it was evocative and cool looking, but in reality for me it kind of muddled the momentum for the first few minutes. There was too much time jumping with no real reason for it.
Other issues? While the film and it's characters felt pretty authentically Roman (key for any movie about Romans as far as I'm concerned, often times you get the feeling that the Romans in a given movie are just generic soldiers with swords), there were a few little things that bothered me. Such as? Fassbender bragging that his father was a Gladiator. That was just bizarre. Sure, gladiators got respect in the area and were objects of lust and adoration... but being the son of a freedman was NOT a classy position for a roman soldier to find himself in. There he is, speaking with a general, and he's bragging about something that he should probably feel a bit embarrassed to bring up in such company.
I liked Mr West well enough in his role. He's a good actor and a fun guy to watch on screen. With that said, I didn't really think he was the best choice for the character. He seemed too low class, too much of a brawler from birth. Watching him, you should have had a sense that he was an aristocrat slumming with his men. Still beloved by them, but above them all the same. West is a good actor, but he just couldn't pull off being a general during those scenes. He was better during his death scene, but all the same, if there was ever a role that cried out for the base animal magnetism of James Purefoy, this was it. Anyone who has seen ROME automatically knows that I'm right about the fact Purefoy would have made a better Virilous than West. Oh well, I digress.
Ms Kurylenko.... many people here have stated that they were fans of her work in this film. I thought it was pretty good. She seemed creepy, and had intimidating eyes. With that said, it felt at times a bit too close to Keira Knightly in King Arthur syndrome for comfort. I could take her seriously as an aggrieved person. I could take her seriously as a tracker. Yet as someone who is not physically strong myself, I needed to take only a brief look at her stick arms before I could no longer take her seriously as someone who could swing around giant spears. I had a hard time believing that she herself could take on anyone in a fight. Marshall's tight direction during the combat scenes helped to minimize this problem, but there seemed to be an ever present risk that I'd end up feeling like I was watching fantasy and not history (something I HATE in movies about ancient Rome). I have difficulty keeping a broom extended at a 90 degree angle, so there is no way she could have done what she did with that FINAL FANTASY type spear during certain fight scenes
Mr Fassbender? He was reasonably compelling. I liked him. I think he was good in his role because he wasn't meant to be the natural leader of those men. He was someone who was just motivated enough and possessed strong enough character to take that role upon himself in the crisis. Fassbender was fairly OK in IB, and I've been slowly coming around on him. His line delivery of "I am a soldier of Rome, I will not yield!" was pretty cool and got me jazzed up. With that said, he was probably the actor I hated the most in the loathsome 300*, and his association with that film is something that's currently still a huge obstacle for me when it comes to joining his fan club. This sure was a step in the right direction though. Another problem was that I don't find Fassbender's face particularly distinctive (this is no fault of his own) . I had a hard time telling if I was watching him or not during certain action scenes.
Anyway, I don't want to harp on whatever percieved problems may exist in this film because I really did love the experience of watching it. It's enjoyable on nearly every level even if it's not great art. I kept waiting for Marshall to drop the ball and that moment never came. A rare feat in today's cinema-world
BTW, I spent some time looking at various reviews for the movie last night, and I'm utterly perplexed by the critics complaints. "No fleshed out characters", seemed to be one of their main lines of attack. CENTURAIN spent more time developing it's characters than most action films in recent memory. No one died an anonymous death. Another review said that it was absurd to hear a Roman refer to being "Behind enemy lines". Huh? The enemies had lines, and the Romans were behind them. There is no part of that statement that feels in any anachronistic to my fairly well trained ears.
Before I shut up about this for now, I guess I'll also say this: I wish Fassbender's narration had been delivered slightly differently, and placed slightly differently. It often kind of mysteriously was plopped down into the middle of scenes, while characters walked around and did stuff. It felt like it was inserted because Marshall had not figured out a way to work that information into the story by other means. Combined with Fassbender's incongruously unhurried delivery (I liked how he read the lines, it just often felt like it didn't fit what I was seeing on screen given frantic chase), it became slightly distracting at times. I liked the lines he spoke, and how he spoke them, but they were just not well integrated into the over all movie.
Oh, and I loved the score! The floating opening titles were somewhat goofy, but when the french horn (was that what it was?) sounded a high note as the camera swept across the epic scenery, I knew immediately what kind of movie was in store for me, and I bought into the spirit of adventure at that moment
Anyway, another thoroughly enjoyable Neil Marshall film. He's becoming one of the most reliable directors out there, IMHO. Can't wait to see what he tackles next, but whatever it is, I hope someone finally gives him a big budget to play with. Something tells me he'd knock it out of the park
* Due to his line reading of "Then we'll fight in the shade". Not only do I hate how he said that, but I hate how the film changed the line from the far cooler "Then we'll have our battle in the shade". The wording on the second version is just so much more casual and bad ass. It's like "Oh, thanks! We get to fight in the shade! How nice of you". The first one, and Fassbender's delivery of it, is all posturing and fake bravado. Ugh.