This isn't an epic big budget blockbuster that you'd expect straight from the ovens of Hollywood studios, but it entertains and overwhelms in terms of gory battle violence that has an excessive amount of mutilation and scarlet splatter. It isn't a marvelous film with certain flaws but it does what it can within limitations and constraints, an admirable effort no less.
AD 117. The Roman Empire stretches from Egypt to Spain, and East as far as the Black Sea. But in northern Britain, the relentless onslaught of conquest has ground to a halt in face of the guerrilla tactics of an elusive enemy: the savage and terrifying tribes known as the Picts.
Quintus (Michael Fassbender), sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus’ (Dominic West) legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the earth and destroy their leader Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). But when the legion is ambushed on unfamiliar ground, and Virilus taken captive, Quintus faces a desperate struggle to keep his small platoon alive behind enemy lines, evading remorseless Pict pursuers over harsh terrain, as the band of soldiers race to rescue their General, and to reach the safety of the Roman frontier.
From the man who brought us 2002's "Dog Soldiers" and "The Descent" in 2005, you will be able to expect some gritty war action from Neil Marshall as we see man's flesh and blood pitted against various forms of severance and dismemberment when subjected to swords and axes. You get the blood and violence when the script calls for it, nothing more.
So in some ways, it's concisely sweet and spot on when satisfying bloodlust fans.
From the middle mark onwards, all the massive armies are reduced to a mere few who embarks on a non-stop journey on foot to first rescue their captured General Titus Flavius Virilus (what a powerful sounding name! Almost like calling one Superman Ironman Spiderman) from the enemies' camp. With a twist of the screenwriters' pen, it is then turned against them as they are now on foot yet again to escape from their pursuing enemies whom they call Picts.
This is when all the grandeur wide scenic shots come into play.
This chase is possibly the only event in the film that helps to define it's characters through interactions amidst perils. Otherwise, there isn't much to most of the characters, except for one in my opinion - Etain the Huntress, played by Olga Kurylenko (yes, the Bond Girl in Quantum of Solace).
Playing it with an extremely aloof manner, her vengeful eyes are the only telltale signs of danger when you don't see her weapon flying right at you. Kurylenko has got the silent role right with her fearful demeanour that even those sitting in the theatre can feel her wrath. This is a great test of an actor's capabilities when one has to depict a character non-verbally.
I also find it interesting to see how the gushes of red are highly in contrast to the bleached out white and gray hued visual treatment. Blood seems to be the only warm element during the bitter winters. It is not certain if the blood is bright on purpose, but you can't help but notice it.
Some might brand this a 'B'-grade production (judging from its opening credits, it probably is), but if you are looking for some bloody war action that tries to justify a peaceful simple life away from the honour and glory of a warworn one, this might be it.