Reviewer: Charity Bishop
In 117 AD, Centurion is a possible explanation for what happened to the infamous missing 9th legion in the Roman Army. Their forces have all but defeated at the hands of the native Scottish warriors known as the Picts, but Rome is not about to release control of a territory without a final attempt. One last courageous stand is made by General Virilus (Dominic West), with the assistance of Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a recent Pict prisoner who knows something of their tactics. Leading their expedition into the wilds is the beautiful and mysterious mute "she-wolf," Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a fierce Pict warrior and remarkable tracker.
When she betrays them to her people and turns on them, only a handful of Romans are left alive. Brick (Liam Cunningham), Bothos (David Morrissey), and the others want to flee across the mountains and rejoin the Roman legion, but in the knowledge that their general is still alive, Quintus insists on mounting a daring rescue operation. When it goes amiss, the men find themselves running for their lives from Etain, who will not stop until she has slaughtered every last one of them.
The film is a tad formulaic and the beginning is rough. It jumps around too much in attempting to establish characters and situations, but eventually does settle down and follow a decent narrative. Some have complained about the romantic subplot in the second half, involving a social outcast believed to be a witch (Imogen Poots) but I actually thought that improved the story significantly. In terms of writing the film has some flaws and some high points. Etain is a terrific character and having her never speak a word adds to her sinister element, but at the same time the audience is rather fond of her. Hearing her story gives us a sense of understanding and compassion for her plight... which is actually the main problem in the film.
There's no one to root for, since you do not really identify with the Romans but are still hoping they survive. When it comes down to the last brutal fight, you're not sure who deserves to win. Quintus lacks the emotional connection to the audience to make us really care about him, so the film feels empty. I've always thought the lack of a good driving script contributes to a high quota of content, and in this case it is extreme use of gore, which is neither realistic nor remotely believable. There's such a lot of it that the audience rapidly becomes bored by it and the action scenes seem built around it rather than using it as a secondary asset -- it is as if the violence is telling the story. It was an attempt to make the film appear stronger cinematically but it does the opposite.
The first twenty minutes were terrible -- full of bad acting and subpar special effects, but the story eventually did take off and hold my attention once the "better actors" were brought in. The main cast is quite good but we never really get to know these men and as such are not that torn apart in their subsequent trials and sometimes deaths. I also knew what the ending would be fairly early on, so in that sense it is predictable. Overall, it tries to be taken seriously as a big movie but just can't hold its own.
Several references to women being raped.
Language includes a dozen f-words, uses of s**t, and other crudities, along with a few sexual references.
Heads are removed through various means -- including being hacked off with a hatchet. Arms and legs go spinning into the air as swords slice through them. Axes come down in skulls and are drawn out again. Throats are cut. Blood spurts, sprays, and seeps. One particularly stupid example of over-gore is when a man is thrown into a tree, a spray of blood flies in all directions... what did the trunk do, decapitate him? Other men are shot with arrows, skewered by poles, or stabbed. The Romans kill and disembowel a deer, then eat the half-digested contents of its stomach, and leave it for their enemies to find, its entrails scattered across the ground. It's implied but not shown that a man is attacked and eaten by wolves.
Other:Vulgar behavior such as public urination is shown (we see a man urinating off a turret, shortly before he is stabbed from below; another man urinates in a tub of water which a man's head is then thrust into; a man urinates in a stream and is embarrassed to discover a woman nearby).