'Centurion' is based on the legend of the Ninth Legion of Rome and its battle with the vicious Picts, who inhabited the extreme north of Britain in the early years AD. The Ninth Legion had 4,000 of Rome's finest warriors - renowned throughout the Empire as unvanquishable in battle.
We join the story as the Picts wipe out a Roman outpost except for one man - Quintus Dias (Fassbender), who the Picts take as prisoner. Quintus' knowledge of the Picts' native language saves him from execution and before long he eventually escapes their clutches. He is picked up by the Ninth Legion and joins their ranks.
The Ninth Legion, under the rule of General Virilus (West), are then instructed by the Roman Senate to push forth and exterminate the Picts.
In doing so, however, the legion is ambushed by the Picts and many of the soldiers meet a bloody end. Virilus is captured and it is left to Quintus and the remaining men of the legion to save him from certain death at the hands of the Picts. What is more, Quintus must also attempt to guide the remains of the legion back to Roman territory.
As someone who lacks a BA Ancient History degree or in-depth knowledge of Picts v Roman warfare, I won't even broach whether the film hits bum or accurate notes historically. What I do know is that Michael Fassbender is continually proving himself to be a strong leading man with a varied and believable repertoire. His performances in 'Hunger' and 'Inglourious Basterds' made him one of the most highly-rated Irish screen actors and demonstrated his versatility. 'Centurion' is a further example of the Killarney-raised Fassbender's talent. The Irish actor owns the screen during the scenes in which he appears, displaying the understated skill of an artist confident in his abilities. He carries the film and does it well.
'Centurion' is not a history lesson by any means. Rather then attempting to portray exact battles as they took place, it instead tells a cat-and-mouse tale. Often in historical dramas the powerful colonial force is the 'cat'. What makes 'Centurion' interesting is that the Romans are the 'mouse' - attempting to evade the Picts in the inhospitable territory of northern Britain. And inhospitable it indeed is. The whole attempt to escape the Picts conjures images of an orienteering holiday in the Scottish Highlands gone horribly wrong.
As you would expect, the key to this film is the battle scenes, which come thick, fast and covered in blood. Even by today's standards, the bloodshed is fairly catastrophic. The hand-to-hand nature of the combat emphasises the brutality of war in a superbly visceral manner. I'm hard pushed to think of a film which has better edited combat scenes - except perhaps Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'.
There are some solid performances from the likes of Liam Cunningham and David Morrissey as Roman soldiers. 'Quantum of Solace' star Olga Kurylenko does her best to portray a fearsome Picts tracker without ever really making one quake in one's boots.
Army films tend to have one common thread - that of a disparate group of men fighting together to carry out the command of their ruler. This theme also appears in 'Centurion' and the film is interesting partly because it binds men from all across the Roman Empire.
There is enough in the storyline to keep you interested, but sadly, the film rarely escapes beyond who you think will die next. That said, it's a damn good cat-and-mouse-chase, with great scenery and cool battle scenes. It is also well-acted for the most part. You could do worse.