Your proprietor had been less than thrilled with the films of horror/fantasy auteur Neil Marshall: I'd always faded out of Dog Soldiers after about ten minutes, and I admired The Descent more than I actually liked it. And yet Centurion, Marshall's tale of Roman soldiers of the Ninth Legion waging a desperate escape attempt deep behind enemy lines, seemed an interesting game changer for him, and I'm very glad I checked it out.
There's a curious vogue for blood-soaked tales of war in ancient times, and Marshall dives straight into widescreen battles and captures every CGI bloodspurt with care. But this thing sneaked up on me, offering some generous space for its talented cast to flesh out their characters. Particularly pleasing was seeing Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (whose twenty-minute conversation offered an oasis of humanity in Steve McQueen's Hunger last year) back together in the trenches. Marshall also captures gorgeous tableaux of war and peace in direct, simple images that offer an earthier, smarter counterpart to Snyder's slavish Miller-copies of 300 (and gets bonus points for offering a soundtrack without a single lick of overblown faux-metal). It's not a great or original story, but Marshall and co. put every foot right in telling it. Even Fassbender's voice-over narration, which comes very close to overexplaining some of Marshall's more profound images, brings it all full circle in the final moments, drop-kicking this simple, mythic story into a place of genuine grace.