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REVIEW: 300 [2007]

Score: 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 117 minutes | Release Date: March 9th, 2007 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Zack Snyder
Writer(s): Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon /
Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (graphic novel)

“Sparta!”

This is what film was destined to evolve to. After decades of directors making storyboards as reference before filming and the slow building trend to adapt comic book work, we finally have the ultimate fusion of both. Sure Sin City did amazing things with the medium and created frame-by-frame transfers from drawing to celluloid, however, it was still shot as a movie first and foremost. Zack Snyder has done something different with 300; he has created a true work of art. Frank Miller’s story was one steeped in truth and history if not entirely non-fiction. The heightened reality came across in the stylized drawings of the graphic novel and the honor and respect held in such high regard by its characters. Snyder takes these aspects to another level with his film, creating some of the most brutal yet beautiful moments I’ve seen at the movies. The artistry is gorgeous to behold and the story and acting only enhance the quality with deeper meaning. What Picasso’s Guernica is to painting, an epic portrayal of war and death and the hope that can come out of it all, 300 is to cinema.

I am surprised how the huge success so far for this film needs to be footnoted with the fact that it has a starless cast. To me, this is a slap in the face of all the great talent involved. Gerard Butler, for one, has steadily risen in the acting ranks and just cements his talent with this role as Spartan King Leonidas. He has the rugged physique and harsh mentality of a true warrior, but also the compassion needed to lead a band of soldiers to their death and the love for not only land and country, but also wife and child—their freedom being the reason he needs Sparta to stay safe from tyranny. Then you have the beautiful Lena Headey, the actress that was forced into Terry Gilliam’s Brother’s Grimm after producers refused to let Samantha Morton have the role. Knowing Gilliam’s history with Hollywood and being forced to do so many things against his will, the words saying that Headey actually did the role justice to his vision means wonders. To be complimented for a part he had a singular vision for can only prove the worth she holds. I still want to see last year’s Imagine Me and You, the kind of chick flick that looks like it could be a really good film. Lastly you have the up-and-coming David Wenham, one of the best performances, in my opinion, throughout the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. After a fun role in the dreadful Van Helsing and a total metamorphosis in The Proposition, I believe he has some great things ahead of him. Even Dominic West as the treacherous Theron surprised me. After his laughable acting in The Forgotten, I couldn’t believe this was the same guy. I have never seen “The Wire,” but maybe the guy has some talent after all.

Again, though, no matter how effective the acting was, the true strength of the film was in the overall aesthetic. Sure many scenes were culled perfectly from the comic, but Snyder also put his own flare to it. Not only was the role of Queen Gorgo expanded from a single drawn frame to integral role of the film, but it was done so successfully. When I heard of the expansion I sort of chuckled, thinking here is an infusion of femininity in an otherwise macho story—if for nothing else, but to add a reason to have some sexuality and nudity in this hard-R movie. Instead it is her character’s drive back home in Sparta against the villainous Theron that makes the final moments as poignant as they are. While the comic gave us an insight into a warrior fighting for freedom of men, the addition of the Queen here gives us the story of a man fighting for the freedom of humanity and equality of all those living on earth. The softer side of the king makes his brutality that much more necessary and his love for his wife the reason he is so ready to give his life for the war. The only addition I disliked in the entire film was that of a grotesque creature/decapitating machine. The “monsters” in the story are supposed to be elephants and inbred freaks of nature, (this is ancient Greece), not monstrosities fixed with blades as arms. I find myself forgiving it though because it was on screen for so short a time, and the only misstep I saw.

Zack Snyder has outdone himself. I enjoyed his remake of Dawn of the Dead, but didn’t quite understand the critics when they said he had an immense talent and hold on how to shoot and craft scenes. 300 definitely showed me this to be true. Whether light scenes of stunning visuals like the dance of the oracle or dark sequences of battle and splattering blood, he succeeds with them all. The first long take of Leonidas fighting through Persian after Persian with the speed slowed and increased while the zoom jumps forward and back is amazing and makes the hallway fight scene in Oldboy seem like child’s play. This is truly the first great film of 2007, whether it stays atop my favorites at the end of the year remains to be seen, but right now it sits above all with quite a gap in between.


photography:
[1] GERARD BUTLER stars as King Leonidas in Warner Bros. Pictures’, Legendary Pictures’ and Virtual Studios’ “300,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
[2] Gerard Butler as King Leonidas and Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 300 (2007)

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