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Film review: Echoes of 'Gladiator' and '300' in 'Centurion'

Published: Thursday, Aug. 26 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT

Dominic West as general Titus Virilus in "Centurion," a tale partly based on history and told in over-the-top fashion.

Magnet Releasing

CENTURION — ★★ — Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko; rated R (violence, gore, profanity, torture); Jordan Commons

For better or worse, both "300" and "Gladiator" have changed the way other filmmakers now approach the so-called, "sword-and-sandals" epics.

Ever since the 2006 hit and the 2000 Oscar winner were released, others have depicted similar tales in a grim, gritty and even gory fashion. "Centurion" is one of the more competently made of this imitative lot.

It's certainly not art, and it is not for the squeamish, but at least it does what it sets out to do. The bloody action-revenge thriller will most likely appeal to fans of the Starz television series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand."

The title character is Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a Roman centurion who's already had more than one deadly encounter with the Picts, led by Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen).

In fact, Quintus is the only survivor of an ambush by these fierce British tribesmen. The attack even leads Rome to send in its fabled Ninth Legion, under the command of General Titus Virilus (Dominic West).

Titus is confident about his legion's chances against the Picts. He even has a scout, Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who was raised by them.

Unfortunately, Etain betrays the Romans to Gorlacon. Titus is captured during the resulting melee, and Quintus and a handful of survivors must fight to survive as they try to make their way back home.

Screenwriter/director Neil Marshall ("Doomsday") depicts his tale — some of it based on real-life events — in over-the-top fashion.

When the action gets brutal, it gets really brutal. And Marshall is certainly not afraid to paint his characters in moral "grays." (One of the Romans even murders a child to avoid capture.)

Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds") is a little dull as the supposed hero, though. At least West and Kurylenko seem to enjoy sinking their teeth into their meatier roles.

"Centurion" is rated R and features strong, often disturbing violent content and imagery (swordplay, including slashings and stabbing, arrow fire, knife play, brawling, fiery mayhem, violence against women and children), graphic, gory and bloody imagery, strong sexual language (profanity and crude slang terms), sequences depicting torture, derogatory language and slurs (based on nationality, heritage, some sexist in nature), and other off-color language and references. Running time: 97 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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