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Originally published Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Centurion': A handsome Roman war epic that lacks emotional impact

"Centurion," starring Michael Fassbender as a Roman soldier in northern Britain in 117 A.D., is almost charismatic enough to hold this visually dazzling epic together.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Centurion,' with Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko. Written and directed by Neil Marshall. 97 minutes. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, grisly images and language. Varsity.

"This is a new kind of war. A war without honor, without end."

So claims a Roman soldier, Quintus Dias, who's spent two years battling the Picts, a determined guerrilla gang, in northern Britain in 117 A.D.

The central character in "Centurion," he could be referring to Vietnam or Afghanistan — which seems to be the point of director Neil Marshall's contemporary-sounding script. Also making that connection: the self-conscious use of obscenities and the casting of actors who are associated mostly with 21st-century roles.

Michael Fassbender, the charismatic, German-born actor who made a splash last year in "Inglourious Basterds" and "Fish Tank," plays the disillusioned hero, whose first-person account begins with the announcement that "this is neither the beginning nor the end of my story."

He thereby reinforces the notion that there is (to borrow the title of a recent Iraq documentary) no end in sight. Plunging half-naked through the snow, escaping from Pict warriors who can only be called demonic, he seems to be racing in circles. So does the movie, which eventually becomes one long, very bloody chase sequence.

It's up to Fassbender to hold the picture together and lend it a sense of direction. He succeeds as long as the picture focuses on Quintus' attempts to hang on to an idea of Roman fair play, even though it's contradicted by most of what he sees.

Marshall, who directed the Scottish werewolf movie "Dog Soldiers," uses Sam McCurdy's widescreen cinematography to dazzling effect, creating a world that's both lush and forbidding.

The intended emotional impact, however, is missing. Occasionally Marshall provides a back story to fill out a role, but too often that's how it comes off: as filler.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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