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dir-scr Neil Marshall
prd Christian Colson, Robert Jones
with Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey, Noel Clarke, Riz Ahmed, JJ Field, Liam Cunningham Imogen Poots, Ulrich Thomsen, Dave Legeno, Axelle Carolyn
release UK 23.Apr.10, US 27.Aug.10
10/UK Pathe 1h37
This isn't going well: Fassbender and Cunningham
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
With a raucous, gruesome tone, this Roman-era British action movie takes us back in time in such a vivid way that we often feel a bit queasy while watching. If the story were stronger, we'd be glued to the screen.
Quintus Dias (Fassbender) seems to be an unusually lucky centurion. Stationed in the nastiest outpost on the edge of the Roman Empire in Britain, he's the only survivor of a Pict attack by the vindictive Gorlacon (Thomsen). So he teams with General Virilus (West) and heads back into the hot zone. Again, the Picts launch a devastating attack. This time seven Romans survive, and it becomes a cat-and-mouse chase as mute huntress Etain (Kurylenko) tenaciously tracks Quintus and company across the Highlands. Can they make it back to safety in the south?
The film's contained narrative makes it very watchable, as writer-director Marshall avoids overarching themes for unruly battles and gritty violence. Although this creates a problem in that the film seems to grind to a halt in between the action scenes, with lots of grunting banter as well as a hesitant romantic sideroad as the survivors encounter a friendly outcast (Poots) who's improbably gorgeous even with a big scar on her face.
Furthering the implausibility factor is the politically correct diversity of the Romans, which includes an African (Clarke), a central Asian (Ahmed) and a range of hotheads, comedians, tough guys and traitors. Marshall gets away with this simply because the actors are all seriously gifted, creating watchable characters we really root for as their lives are put in jeopardy again and again. And as always, Fassbender holds the film together almost effortlessly.
Marshall is very good at creating pounding suspense and refusing to shy away from real grisliness. The battles are invested with an almost crazed brutality that feels genuinely terrifying and perhaps more realistic that what we usually see in these kinds of movies. He also drenches the film in filth: mud, blood, spit, half-digested food and various bodily fluids abound. This is colourful, lurid filmmaking that threatens to wear us out with its relentless nastiness. So if the human story at the centre feels a little dry in comparison, at least it adds some meaning.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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