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USA 2007
Directed by
Zack Snyder
117 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Frank Miller’s graphic novel retelling of the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan warriors held off the Persian Army for two days, gets the big screen treatment.

It’s a second-hand story, but I heard that at a conference on non-violence, Tim Costello, the head of World Vision Australia, told of being asked by his son, “Dad, do you ever win?” It was in answer to a question about why he does what he does. What’s the point of fighting when you know going in that you’re going to lose? What’s the significance of the noble sacrifice? It’s a good question. Is there any point to such symbolic gestures? 300 is an exploration of that question, although it’s elevating the film a bit much to suggest that such moral issues were on the makers’ minds when they made it. 300 isn’t a deeply philosophical film, it’s a blood and guts war movie. When Frank Miller first started writing 300, he thought about the character designs. How to draw these men who held off a quarter of a million soldiers? His first thought, reportedly, was that it was important they have red capes. The reference will probably be lost on most moviegoers, but there’s no doubting that this is a superhero film more than an historical epic.

Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas as a driven man, dedicated to family and country. He is faced with an emissary from the Persian king, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), demanding tribute, to bow to another king. Leonidas would rather fight and remain free than bow to him. And so he throws the entire nation of Sparta into a war with a numerically superior enemy, one they don’t really have a hope of defeating. Especially since Xerxes has bribed the religious leaders who rule Sparta with the promise of cute girls, if they will prophesy that it is unlawful to fight during a religious festival. Leonidas finds a nice loophole, with a “bodyguard” of the 300 finest soldiers in Sparta he will hold a narrow pass where the Persians force of numbers will count for little. But it’s a pretty brutal request of his men; go to your near certain death to defend your country, knowing that your own army won’t come to your aid. And really in all probability, they’d just be the next to die. Xerxes sums it up nicely to a defector, “Cruel Leonidas demanded that you stand. I require only that you kneel.” The red capes were well chosen. These are not ordinary men.

The look of the film is stunning. Filmed against green screens with all the sets inserted in post-production by computers, 300 is a testament to the state of the art in special effects. Even more impressive is the fact that you never really pause to consider it. The style, which is amazingly consistent and engaging, doesn’t look like the work of a special effects team, it just looks like the look of the film. The acting is nothing special, lots of men yelling at each other like they’re on some weekend retreat to find themselves. It’s silly stuff, but it’s a lot of fun all the same. David Wenham’s voice narrating the whole story is odd, as it strangely doesn’t seem “manly” enough. But it doesn’t matter, the film is all sound and fury, glorious in its hyper-real approach to storytelling. And as for the question of the value of symbolic gestures, the final shot suggests that there can be a point to them, even if you don’t live long enough to see it. Am I elevating the film too much in saying that? Almost certainly, but it’s nice to be inspired occasionally all the same.




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