I’m a pretty old-school guy, which is why I see a majority of movies at Film Forum here in New York. I appreciate film is an art that is ever-moving forward, ever growing and changing and adapting to trends in the culture…but sometimes you just want to see Jimmy McNulty fight a chick with a giant fucking spear.
That’s not the entire plot of Centurion, the new film from Neil Marshall, but it’s one standout scene in a film filled with them. Centurion is a lean-and-mean, meat-and-potatoes, masculine movie that is one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in a theater this year. The plot is this: In 2nd Century Britain, while travelling to battle the Picts’ guerilla army, the Roman 9th Legion (commanded by Dominic “McNulty” West) is betrayed and slaughtered, leaving only a few survivors, including an ex-POW, played by Michael Fassbender. You may know Michael Fassbender from his part as Arch in Inglorious Basterds, where he was excellent. Centurion cements him as a leading-man, in that he spends most of the movie with his shirt off (for the ladies) and is a manly-man doing all kinds of manly-man things and being a leader of men (for you dudes in the audience).
It’s not all about Fassbender, though — at the Q&A after this movie, Marshall said “We don’t get to make Westerns in Britain, so this is my Western” — and it very much is, with gorgeous sweeping helicopter shots and horses framed in silhouette against an expansive sky. The cast is made up of lots of “hey, it’s that guy,” including David Morrissey, who I like a lot, and Noel Clarke, from Dr. Who. There’s even a character who is the “token Middle Eastern dude.” Not really sure why they put him in there, but it works. Also great is Dominic West, who’s more of a supporting role than the name above the title would lead you to belive, but he has some awesome action and character moments, especially with Fassbender. It’s a good part for him, and I hope he takes more like this one, because he’s great at it. Also, there’s a scene where he gets drunk and sleeps with a wench bent over the back of a Roman column.
What I really liked about Centurion was the feeling. During the Q&A a guy complained that he didn’t really like any of the Roman characters because they were, essentially, an invading force. I disagree — Marshall paints these guys with a very broad brush — the guy on his last tour, the eternal soldier, the cook, the guy who you know is going to turn out to be bad news — but first and foremost, they’re soldiers. They talk like soldiers (“fuck” is used quite often and the dialogue is very modern-sounding, which I liked a lot and reminded me of Milch’s work on Deadwood), they act like soldiers (fighting and drinking), and it makes what they go through as characters, both in their arcs and in the challenges they face, resonate. It’s hard to look at any modern movie about a historical empire battling a small yet determined guerilla force and not think of what’s going in other parts of the world, but Marshall never beats you over the head with it. There’s a little talk about dying empires and the like and that’s about it. It’s not like “hai guies this is Afghanistan lol.”
I’m not sure if this movie is as much batshit crazy fun as Doomsday, but it might be Marshall’s best movie to date. I dug it, and I’d see it again. Good stuff, this movie.