Centurion Quintus Dias: In the chaos of battle, when the ground beneath your feet is a slurry of blood, puke, piss and the entrails of friends and enemies alike, it's easy to turn to the gods for salvation. But it's soldiers who do the fighting, and soldiers who do the dieing, and the gods, never get their feet wet.
A fine enough chase film that uses the 2nd century Roman conquest of Britain as its backdrop. While there is solid action throughout the film, once it settles down on its B-movie-like plot, the film works quite well. However, while some of the storytelling is a bit clunky, the visuals present in this film make up for it. Some great scenery is blended with ample amounts of bloodshed that is shot in a very brutal manner. It doesn't hurt that a few good character actors head up the cast either.
Michael Fassbender stars as Centurion Quintus Dias, a Roman centurion who essentially goes through hell, getting beat up constantly along the way. Quintus manages to get captured during a raid of his camp, only to be taken to the stronghold of barbarians known as the Pict. However, Quintus does manage to escape and make his way back to a legion of soldiers lead by General Titus Virilus (Dominic West). This legion is being helped by a Pict tracker known as Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who is a warrior woman with no ability to speak due to the lack of a tongue, as it was ripped out by Roman soldiers when she was young. Things turn for the worse when it turns out that Etain has been leading the legion into a trap, leaving almost all the soldiers dead and the General captured. It is soon up to Quintus and a small group of remaining soldiers to rescue the General, as long as they can survive being chased by the vicious group of warriors now led by Etain.
The film was directed by Neil Marshall, who previously made the spelunking horror film, The Decent, and the messy but entertaining sci-fi flick, Doomsday. The thing that holds true between all of these films, is that Marshall is a fan of delivering some pretty violent movies. Here he has made a sword and sandals film that gets to the point and works as a fairly straight-forward action flick. The way he shoots his action is in a way that is up close but still comprehensible, which is fine. It is a visceral sort of take on the material that makes it all the more effective.
From a narrative perspective, there is a bit more to be desired. It takes a bit of time before the real plot sort of takes hold, having an extended start up of sorts, being sure to handle all of the elements that lead up to its second half. I could somewhat compare this to how Apacolypto builds into its extended third act, which is entirely a chase. In addition, the film doesn't exactly present the strongest sort of characters, beyond some basic traits for each, but the actors involved make up for it, for the most part.
Now, with all that being said, the film works in terms of how well filmed it is. The look of this film, as the soldiers travel across various wintery countrysides, forests, and mountains is all nicely done. While this film didn't see a wide release in America, it certainly has the look of an epic, with all the wide shots of these soldiers. That being said, the film is less than 100 minutes, and knows how to get down and dirty with its violence, without too much fat on the bones of this film.
I must also make a special note about Kurylenko as Etain. While I have not really enjoyed her as the latest Bond girl or in films such as Hitman or Max Payne, I did find her quite effective here. It may have been due to the fact that she only needed to intimidate foes based on here looks and present a physical presence. As she was not required to speak, maybe that was for the better.
The film is overall a little mixed in telling a great story, but the way the action is shot and the fun involved in the whole chase element of the film makes up for it. I have enjoyed Marshall's style as a filmmaker thus far, and continue to hope for more genre exercises in the future from him.
Soldier: He's a ruthless, reckless bastard. And I'd die for him without hesitation.