Top critical review
Into the valley of death
on 2 May 2013
Those who`ve awarded 300 the full monty of five stars have (to my mind) drastically overrated it, while the one star nay-sayers have missed something.
Historically, this film is a joke, though if you read about the legendary battle at Thermopylae - and there are now many books on the Spartans and their famous battle with the Persians - it is surprising how many details 300 gets right; almost as many as they get wrong. The Spartans were not alone, they had slaves with them, as well as Greeks, though they did fight to the bitter end.
Xerxes is portrayed as a cross between a camp Prince, adorned with bling a-plenty, and a kind of middle-Eastern Caligula. That`s a travesty. He`s played to the hilt though by the impressive Rodrigo Santoro.
King Leonidas of Sparta is given a performance of such magnificent flamboyance by Gerard Butler that one can only stand back and be led by this pectorally perfect lion of a man. Butler obviously took the role and tore it to pieces. The occasional moments of reflection or grief are all the more credible for his otherwise crazed, patriotic bloodlust.
British actress Lena Headey is superb as Gorgo, his tough, loyal, if unfortunately named wife. Her performance is as pleasingly understated as Butler`s is brazenly overwrought. I wish we saw more of this woman in a wider variety of films. But here she shines. She`s well cast, having a timeless look about her, which so few actors have. You could place her in almost any era and she`d not look out of place (though perhaps not in a Regency drama).
Dominic West as a treacherous senator is as good as ever, and David Wenham is allowed some touching moments as one of the 300.
The CGI is/are pretty stunning, though there`s an absurd amount of slo-mo action. Even when a messenger rides off to Sparta, he and his horse move in slo-mo, for no logical reason. I want to see a horse gallop, not glide!
The battle scenes are both stirring and repetitive. When you`ve seen ten heads roll, or twenty arms torn from their sockets, you`ve seen them all. I liked the way the Spartans are shown visibly, and literally, shielded by each other, a metallic, impregnable hedgehog barrier of circular shields: an appropriate one-for-all image of these brave, if foolhardy, men.
And yet...the whole thing is so chest-beatingly unsubtle. I salute the sheer chutzpah that went into the making of such a mini-epic (it`s not quite long enough to call it an epic) but regret that the finer points of reality and truth were sacrificed on the altar of blood, sweat and tears - especially blood.
Butler, bearded and booming, is a mighty warrior, fierce and feisty Headey is a wholly believable warrior`s wife, and it`s a film well worth seeing once in your life.
The Extra Features (on the 2-disc version) are excellent, the main one a half-hour docu about the making of the film and its historical background, including interviews with Frank Miller, on whose comic the film is based, its director, and eloquent historian Bettany Hughes, among others.