Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) returns to the big screen this weekend with Roman epic, Centurion.
Set In AD 117, Centurion tells the myth of the legendary Roman Ninth Legion who are on a mission to wipe out the Picts and kill their leader, Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). The Legion is joined by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a survivor from a Roman frontier fort that the Picts raided. After the majority of the Ninth are wiped out, what follows is essentially a chase movie as the remaining members of the Ninth are hunted down by their vicious adversaries.
ReelScotland trio, Ross Maclean, Jonathan Melville and Richard Bodsworth sat down to discuss the film in the second roundtable review.
Ross Maclean: What do we make of Marshall’s other films?
Richard Bodsworth: I’m a massive Marshall fan. Dog Soldiers has become something of a cult favourite while The Descent, for me anyway, is a classic of the horror genre.
Jonathan Melville: I’ll admit to being a Marshall novice having avoided him up to now, though not on purpose – just always managed to miss screenings on Film4 and the DVDs didn’t come my way.
Ross: I loved Dog Soldiers and still do. The Descent I liked when it came out but recently revisited and was disappointed. Doomsday I have little time for.
Jonathan: I’ve wanted to watch Dog Soldiers for years, and have seen snippets, but again it always eluded me. I’ve always expected high concept and low budget.
Ross: That’s about right, but handled with flair.
Richard: People bash Doomsday. It’s not great but it’s not awful either. It seemed to me he just wanted to have some fun, wouldn’t you if you were thrown buckets of cash?
Ross: Doomsday is less a Marshall film and more an exercise in how to badly remake Mad Max.
Jonathan: Would you say you know what you’re getting with a Marshall film? Again, I always have that feeling that he’s probably trying hard with little resources – am I doing him a disservice?
Ross: He does do well with what he has. He’s certainly the only British filmmaker plying his trade in this area.
Richard: It’s nice to see him favour a strong female lead without their tits hanging out.
Ross: Agreed. He writes good roles for women (apart from Dog Soldiers).
Jonathan: Who would you say the ˜typical’ Marshall fan is?
Ross: Typical Marshall fan is really any fan of genre cinema.
Richard: He pays homage to a lot of films, not just in the horror genre, in all his films.
Jonathan: He does seem to dabble in a few styles.
Ross: Many styles but same general genre.
Jonathan: Did your knowledge of his work give you any preconceptions of Centurion?
Ross: Definitely. I wasn’t expecting something too deep, just fun. Roman, without the weight of Gladiator or the like.
Richard: Did you think it was trying too deep and became less fun?
Ross: Nah, I definitely don’t think I could accuse it of being deep. It was a romp.
Jonathan: I don’t think it was trying to be deep as such, but he did try to give some characterisation, only some mind. The set-up was just an excuse to get into the fighting.
Richard: Characterisation? What, the round the fire chat?
Jonathan: Well maybe characterisation is a bit strong then! It was quite surface level.
Ross: It was very laddish. To the extent of seeming incongruous with the period setting. I know many of our swear words hail from Latin but it just seemed like the chat in a Wetherspoons on a Friday night!
Richard: Fassbender is too classy for Wetherspoons.
Jonathan: So, the cast; a very strong ensemble.
Ross: Individually fine actors – but not convinced by them as a unit.
Richard: Dominic West was awesome. As too was Fassbender, seems like a solid lead actor.
Jonathan: I was impressed with the cast he pulled together, not bad for a low budget British film, though admittedly most of them are seen in many a low budget British film! Fassbender was always the one-to-watch for me, followed by West.
Ross: Liam Cunningham impressed me most. Although Fassbender is a solid leading man.
Jonathan: I got the feeling West was doing a bit of an Ollie Reed here, not taking it too seriously – was that just me?
Richard: Nope, he was rocking OR.
Ross: I’d say West had certainly summoned up a bit of Oliver. Noel Clarke’s accent and demeanour didn’t seem that far removed from his usual screen persona “ despite a difference of a couple of millennia. It sounded like he was dissing the Picts from a Grime night in Sarf London.
Jonathan: No, Clarke wasn’t given much direction by the looks of it, very much a bloke from modern day added to a historical setting.
Ross: I like Noel Clarke but his character just seemed way out of place.
Jonathan: That’s the thing with Centurion, everyone seems to be viewing it as a bit of a romp, the script obviously leading the way with its verbal anachronisms. There are some serious elements in there, or at least elements where the cast have to be serious because people are being sent into battle or slaughtered, but overall it’s an excuse to shed a bit of blood.
Ross: It is totally a romp. Period setting, but very little in terms of history going on. It felt about as genuine as Asterix.
Jonathan: If we just take it as that then, it is entertaining. I didn’t ever get bored.
Ross: I was never bored but, even as pure entertainment, it wasn’t world class. It had glaring faults – in particular an early plot hole, or certainly structural gaffe.
Richard: That bloody Fassbender escape!
Ross: The plot hole at the start was badly handled. We never find out how he escapes the Picts in the first place. In the first ten minutes of the film Quintus is escaping twice, at two different times, and the two run together. It’s a bit confused.
Jonathan: True, it lost me within the first 15 minutes or so, I’m glad it wasn’t just me!
Richard: That was an issue for me also. Another was too many characters and not enough screen time but as you said, were we expecting deep characters?
Ross: I just thought the dialogue among the Legion didn’t seem to fit. Some scenes worked really well though “ the fiery ambush being the best example.
Jonathan: What did you think of the Romans vs. Picts set-up? Did it side too much with the Romans who were actually invading a country and trying to wipe the Picts out in the process?
Ross: Is it an allegory? Seems to have some modern day relevance!
Jonathan: I suppose it could be seen as one.
Richard: Let’s face it; this was not ever going to be a historical document, it was made for blood-lashing entertainment.
Ross: A lot of Roman-set films are usually labelled epics. What was this trying to achieve in that respect? It seemed to address the issue of feeling ˜epic’ by having every scene transition punctuated with sweeping helicopter shots over mountains or silhouetted figures running across a ridge.
Richard: That’s a tough one. As you can tell from previous Marshall films he does extremely well for the budget, but do you really think he expected it to be a Gladiator-esque epic? I don’t.
Jonathan: I don’t think they could hope to have been epic, but the opening scenes did look impressive while the Roman camp was inhabited by a number of soldiers. Still, that’s not epic, just a good use of extras.
Ross: I don’t either – but then all those grand shots seemed to be suggesting he was aiming for a more than just schlocky trash?
Jonathan: I’d say it was meant to be more than trash.
Ross: Same here, but to label it as just an excuse for blood-letting suggests that. ‘Pulp’ seems a better fit.
Jonathan: Pulp would be more accurate, an action film with togas.
Ross: Predator with sandals?
Jonathan: The cast is one of the signs he was aiming for more. Cunningham, Morrissey and Freeman are a bit more heavyweight than many films of its ilk.
Ross: Although they’ve all done their time in more ‘lowbrow’ stuff before: Dog Soldiers, Basic Instinct 2, Hot Fuzz (to take those three names).
Ross: Paul Freeman, Belloq!
Jonathan: Sorry, Paul Freeman, Belloq, yes!
Richard: Oh. I must have been busy watching Olga.
Ross: She was actually really impressive.
Jonathan: She did really well here.
Richard: The most interesting of the lot!
Ross: She was perhaps the most memorable character despite being, literally, speechless.
Jonathan: And Imogen Poots?
Richard: Romantic subplots do not work for me. Always feels like padding.
Ross: Unnecessary and a pretty awful Scottish accent.
Jonathan: It felt really tacked on and obvious.
Ross: Would there even be such a thing as a ‘Scottish’ accent then?
Richard: Ross, they got away with Cockney accents…
Ross: True. True.
Jonathan: And Liverpudlian.
Ross: Okay, I’ll focus less on the intricacies of dialect!
Jonathan: The score was also quite impressive while the fighting sequences were handled well.
Richard: We are picking holes in a pretty cool action film. What did you make of the fights? There were a few nice kills.
Jonathan: I found myself waiting for each new set-piece and wasn’t disappointed by what I saw.
Ross: Was rip-roaring. Definitely an entertaining watch. The fights were well handled and the horse-based stuff was great, really well lensed. The odd character was denied a decent pay-off though – which I found a bit disappointing.
Jonathan: There was an attempt to do something interesting with West’s character, I would have loved to have seen it go a bit more Braveheart at the end as he looked around him for help that didn’t come. It was nearly there. There was an attempt…
Ross: It was obviously formulaic in that the characters are dispatched one-by-one but it flowed quite well. Never felt it dragging.
Richard: No, it was nicely paced.
Jonathan: I went in expecting a fun, low budget, action flick and I got one. The cast did well with the script and it came into its own in the last 20 minutes or so. Don’t expect an epic and you’ll be fine.
Richard: All in all, if you can forgive the slightly under boiled characters there is a lot of fun to be had and lots of blood and lots of limbs.
Ross: Impressive cast but a largely average actioner with a few standout moments. Looked great and the scenery was a definite plus-point. For me the third act was where the film lost it a bit. The most interesting stuff was in the chase section rather than when they were aiming for a specific destination.