Most films, when made effectively, should bring out certain emotions in an audience. A good comedy should made you laugh, a well-thought out thriller should keep you on the edge of your seat, a horror film should make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and tingle your spine. A film like the 300? Well, it should make you want to kick someone down a hole, or stand in the baking hot Greek sun and run a filthy Persian cur through with a spear, watching his dark blood spew all over the craggy Greek mountains.
The 300 is filled with scenes of spectacular violence. Geysers of blood spurt over golden shields, spears are rammed through stomachs, limbs and heads are hacked off, serrated arrows whistle through the air and rend flesh, terrible horned beasts thunder across the plains trampling and skewering anything in their path, and literal mountains of corpses are rained down upon the battlefield. All of this is captured in gorgeous slow-motion cinematography, with beautiful colors and lighting effects lifted straight from the pages of Frank Miller’s graphic novel.
Thankfully, 300 has powerful acting performances to match the stunning visuals. Gerard Butler absolutely owns the screen as Sparta’s warrior-king Leonidas. His presence is larger-than-life, and downright brutal at times. Although his character is softened a bit from his counterpart in the comic pages, King Leonidas is still an unforgiving commander who believes in only one principle: Never retreat. Never surrender. Fight for freedom until the last man is dead. And Butler will make you believe in that principle, too. His battle cries shake the theater speakers; his speeches of death and honor and glory will have you ready to rise out of your seat, raise a sword up to Zeus and let loose a mighty war howl.
Narrating the tale of the 300 Spartans’ desperate struggle in the Battle of Thermopylae is David Wenham as the Spartan storyteller Dilios. Wenham should be familiar to Lord of the Rings fans as the Gondorian Captain, Faramir. Wenham had a daunting task here, as his narration is the key to building the legend of Leonidas and the 300 for the audience. This sort of thing is usually reserved for an actor with a more prominent voice and stature in the film community, such as Anthony Hopkins or Morgan Freeman, but Wenham pulls it off quite well. Despite not having the greatest voice, Wenham conveys the desperation of the Spartans, the horrors of war, and the desire for glory and victory in compelling and mesmerizing fashion.
Rounding out the excellent performances are Andrew Tiernan, buried under brilliant makeup as the legendary hunchback traitor Ephialtes, and Rodrigo Santoro (completely unrecognizable from his role on TV’s LOST) as the booming-voiced, Persian God-King Xerxes.
There’s only one flaw that prevents 300 from attaining a perfect score, and it’s something that simply couldn’t be avoided in order to make the story long enough for a feature film: The fleshing out of Leonidas’s wife, Queen Gorgo and the sub-plot involving her struggles to convince the Council to send the full Spartan army to aid her husband against the invading Persians. Although some of it was watchable, and Lena Headey did an admirable job with the weak script padding she was given, the scenes were tedious and interrupted the flow of the far superior battle sequences.
The rumors are true, after you see this movie you will want to fight someone. Anyone. Even the most gentle of souls, those of us who rarely even got into a scrap in the schoolyard will immediately want to find a time machine and travel back to ancient Greece, strap on a battered bronze helmet, and let loose the dogs of war upon those Godless armies of the Persian empire who would seek to destroy freedom. This film is that effective. A gory, but glorious masterpiece.
9.5 out of 10