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by on November 3, 2010
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For those who found “Braveheart” too tame, I give you Neil Marshall’s latest, the fantastic “Centurion.”

Marshall (“The Descent,” “Doomsday”) specializes in affecting, entertaining gorefests, and this film is no different, with a bit of a twist: a history lesson along the way.

“Centurion” spotlights on the Roman Army’s legendary 9th Legion, which for all intents and purposes are the Roman version of a black ops or Green Beret unit. They’re elite soldiers brought in to win the fights no one else can.

They met their match, though, when the Romans invade England and run into the vicious Picts, guerilla fighters who understandably want these invaders out of their country.

The Romans send the 9th legion out to take down the Picts, but they’re ambushed and find the tables turned on them. The Roman general (Dominic West) is abducted, and a botched rescue leads to the death of the Pict king’s son, and the war is on, leaving Centurion Quentin Dias (Michael Fassbender) to lead the increasingly small legion.

Soon what’s left of the 9th finds themselves suddenly the prey as the Picts, led by the vicious warrior woman Etain (Olga Kurylenko), and the rest of the film is a struggle for survival.

Part of the film’s appeal is that there aren’t necessarily good guys or bad guys, only two sides in a war. The Picts are brutal and merciless, but are being invaded. The Romans are shown in some instances as noble and just, but at the same time they’re invading and conquering another country. It creates an interesting dynamic that doesn’t judge, but rather places them in their own time for us to observe.

The fight sequences are a cavalcade of carnage, shots that would make Mel Gibson flinch as heads, legs, arms, and other appendages roll at will. Marshall deftly combines practical effects and CG to a nice balance within his budget (which was quite low according to the making-of in the disc’s special features section). Blood sprays, splatters, globs, and chunks. They’re spectacular fight scenes, wonderfully filmed and merciless in their execution. These were brutal times, and so are these guys ready to lay a hurting on anyone.

The acting is routinely good as well, highlighted by Kurylenko’s standout performance as a mute wild woman. She more than holds her own in fight scenes with men; she makes you believe she should dominate these soldiers. Imogen Poots also makes a good showing as a woman exiled as a witch whom the surviving soldiers encounter.

Marshall is at the head of hotshot young filmmakers working today, making the films he wants to make with or without a big studio backing. Here he washes his film in blues and browns and creates a tremendous visual style heightened in a similar but subtler way than, say “300” did.

The bonus features are surprisingly strong given this film’s low profile, with the aforementioned making-of, along with deleted scenes and outtakes and a commentary track.

If you’ve never experienced a Neil Marshall film, you should treat yourself. Why not start with “Centurion”?

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 3.5 Yaps