How much cooler is a storyteller’s epic tale when you can watch all the embellishments? After viewing 300, your answer may be “infinitely.”
King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) of Sparta has a problem. When a messenger from the Persian army delivers a demand of surrender from the self-proclaimed god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), Leonidas declines in the only way a Spartan warrior knows how. Faced with an approaching army rumored to number in the millions and Greek factions unwilling to commit troops or support for petty reasons, Leonidas must decide how far to bend the laws he has sworn to defend in an attempt to convince the Persians that Greece is not worth their trouble. In the end, the king and 300 of his “personal bodyguards” take a stroll to the shores to see what is to be seen, each secretly hoping that, somewhere among Xerxes’ hordes, there is a warrior worthy of sending a Spartan to his death.
To say that this is an epic tale is an understatement. Taking scenes as imagined by Frank Miller in his graphic novel “300,” the film was shot on a soundstage and enhanced digitally to create the ancient world of Greece and a battle that teeters on the edge of disbelief. For example, when a Persian emissary says that his army’s arrows will blot out the sun, we learn first hand that he wasn’t kidding. Then again, the entire tale is being recounted by a storyteller intent on impressing how terrible the Persian army is and the odds that 300 Spartans must face and strive to overcome. Those who know this is an almost entirely digital landscape will be amazed but will soon be drawn deep enough into the story to forget it completely.
What few words are exchanged between characters are often short and deep in meaning. This is a world where actions count for everything and most words are merely the trickery of politicians who cannot or will not fight for themselves. In addition to Gerard Butler as the king, both Lena Headey and David Wenham show as much intensity when delivering their lines whether shouted or whispered, creating the mold to represent the passionate people that Sparta are meant to be in this story. Words like “freedom” and “glory” are spoken often, but it becomes clear that Spartans are among the few that understand that freedom isn’t free, it’s paid for in blood.
So comes the inevitable sub context of, “Is this all some political statement?” With regards to the story (especially if you know history and how often it repeats itself), the fact that the Spartans show up at all is the important part and that they refuse to retreat or surrender is the rest. What good is conquering a people who’ll fight you even after you’ve conquered them? How does one enslave a people who do not fear death? King Leonidas bets everything on making those points clear to the Persians for securing the future of his homelands, and you get to watch. Where other films promise to be the event of the weekend, this one lives up to promise.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)