Genre: Period Action
Read: Nov 3, 2010
Summary: Surprisingly kick-ass.
I’d completely missed this movie in the theaters, but that’s no wonder because it only played on 19 screens across the country. I hadn’t even heard of it, but I noticed a review while browsing my favorite movie reviewer’s site. Reviews were mixed, but it’s set in 117AD, and as a Roman History buff I had no choice but to order.
Wow. It kinda kicked ass.
This isn’t a film for everyone, certainly not for most women. Like the original Predator, it’s a guy’s film. Set in Northern Britain, this is the story of a bunch of Roman soliders on the run from a group of Pictish warriors (old old school Scotts) who want nothing better than to hack off their heads and carry them back to their village. Now, you actually can’t totally blame the picts, they have their reasons. For the most part, this movie is actually fairly authentic. I mean this in a loose sort of way. It’s not based on any real historical events. The action is pretty crazy, but still, compared to some (cough cough, King Arthur), it makes perfect sense.
The movie is basically one long chase scene, and it just works. The landscapes are gorgeous, and the fight scenes have an intensity that’s often missing in today’s over edited films. Things are a bit grisly, but the camera cuts away quickly. You could freeze frame to see some nice brain splatters and battlefield amputations if you were so inclined. There’s a bit of a problem with the fact that many of the actors look very similar in their military uniforms with helmets or short cropped hair — but that’s why the army has uniforms etc. The actors do a good job given the largely physical demands of the roles. The dialog didn’t make me cringe except for a couple lines right in the intro. The whole thing has a nicely stylized feel without being all 300/Spartacus (the second of these, however, is a serious guilty pleasure). It’s much more realistic than either.
So if you like mano-a-mano sword and survival fighting, give it a watch.
If you don’t care about historic nitpicks, you can stop reading, but because I’m a huge Roman buff I’ll mention the anachronisms that bugged me, although none of them really detracted from the film. There are two female Pictish warriors. They kick ass, and I didn’t mind, but I’d wager my life on the fact that 1900 years ago Scottish society — like Roman — was, shall we say, a tad too sexist to allow women to formally fight. I’m all for the recent trend of sexy girl action stars, my own novel has a slightly anachronistic tough female protagonist, but we should realize it just wasn’t the case historically. The Picts also ambush and slaughter a roman legion using the old “rolling balls of fire” trick, slaughtering all but about 10 men. I’m not sure that balls of fire had been invented, or that they ever were terribly effective in the field. In this period, leadership, numbers, discipline, armament, and positioning usually determined the outcome (almost always in the Roman favor). There are only a few cases of bald-faced defeats of the Imperial army, and none that bad in Britain, but I guess it isn’t that different than their defeat at Teutoberg Forest about a 100 years before the date of this film. Certain bits about the costumes were a little dubious, particularly the boots. What we think of as modern boots really weren’t in service in the Roman army at this period, even in cold areas. The armor looked accurate though, they were lucky because movies always love to use the segmented look of the second Century, even if depicting a Republican army. The Pictish outfits looked a bit medieval to me, rather than Iron Age, and the women had shoes (sorry girls, such luxuries were mostly for soldiers and hunters in that kind of borderline neolithic society). Oh, and a few too many Picts seemed to speak Latin — I have to wonder how common that was. But all and all it felt fairly second century.