Well, I've liked every Neil Marshall film I've seen to date (Dog Soldiers, Descent, Doomsday). I also own every Neil Marshall film to date. Why? Because Neill Marshall likes movies, and he knows what audiences like about movies: great characters, intense scenes, good action, interesting premises, and cool storylines. He came out with this little film here, and no one saw it because it got a limited release. For shame Hollywood. For shame.
For those who don't know what this movie is about, it's about the Romans and the Picts. The Romans had this vast empire, but were having problems in Northern Britain, where the Picts were located. They were fighting back against the Empire, so they had to do something about it. Cue the 9th Legion, their most feared battalion. Led by Dominic West's General, and sent by Paul Freeman (Rene Belloc from Indiana Jones), these guys run into resistance. Eventually, Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) tries to lead the survivors of the massacre back to freedom, and that's where the fun really begins.
Now, let's take what we know about most war films. Let's say Steven Spielberg is directing a war film. The Americans are the good guys, and the Nazi's are the bad guys. The Americans are noble, altruistic apple pie types, who fight for liberty, justice and the American Way. The Nazis are evil, child-murdering, remorseless bastards who would kill their own mother for a dime. Sound familiar? Yeah, this movie isn't that. It's war as it really is. There's no good guys, and there's no bad guys...there's just brutality, and in this film, there is a LOT of brutality and gore.
I guess Fassbender is the one true good guy in the movie, even though he's on the side of the Romans, who aren't so good. I'm talking about stabbing your friend and leaving him to die to the wolves so you can survive bad. Then again, the Picts aren't much better, and actually display similar behaviour to the Romans. They decapitate their quarry, they scare and outcast their own people, they fight the Romans, but the odd thing is, they are the Romans in some twisted way. It's neat stuff, and definitely not your run of the mill war movie.
I have to touch on Olga Kurylenko. She was in Quantum of Solace (or Quantum of Sol-ass, if you will), and really didn't show much in the film. In this movie, she's probably the most feared and fearsome character in the film. She's a mute Pict tracker and hunter, and whoo-boy, is she lethal. Ask the poor guy who tried to assassinate Paul Freeman who scary she is. The thing is, you hate her through the film, because she's just so brutal, and so relentless, but her back story is so terrible, you kind of feel sorry for her, even though you want her dead at the same time. It's a really unique feeling.
Be warned though, there's gore galore in this film, and it doesn't flinch from showing you the gruesome details. I can see a lot of people not being able to stomach some of what they see, but hey, Neill Marshall has already demonstrated he has an unflinching mondus operandi in all things bloody, so just know who you're getting into.
Problems with the movie? I guess the only thing I can say is, because all the characters are real, and not completely good or bad, you're kind of left on the fence about who you're really rooting for in this film. Fassbender is the most likeable character, but even he has his flaws -- you get the sense that he can be just as brutal and unforgiving to his opponents as the rest. While this is a fresh take on this sort of film, it also compells the viewer to ever so slightly not give a damn who ends up dead. That's a small critique though, considering how really good this movie is.
Rating 4 out of 5 stars.