March 15, 2007

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300 (R)
Spartans fight and kill and fight and kill and then fight and kill some more all while baring their darn-near-glowing muscle-bound bodies in the violencepalooza that is 300, a brilliantly visceral, artistic-value-free thoroughly engaging popcorn flick.

Did I mention it’s violent?

If movie blood makes you go “ew” and movie battles make you squirm, stay far far away from 300. Also, if you are the kind of person who can accept violence if it is not used gratuitously, who felt that Saving Private Ryan and Letters from Iwo Jima made good use of their bloodshed to illustrate the horrors of war, well, you stay far away too. I won’t pretend that 300 redeems its blood-drunk (a term the movie itself uses) behavior with some bigger commentary on humanity or war or politics. Nope, 300 is an action movie, a bit of entertainment fluff that’s only real redeeming value is that, for those who like this kind of thing, it is absolutely worth your $9 and your two hours.

Artistically, 300 is no ground-breaker either, other than that it does make some of the best use of CGI effects of the ever-growing ranks of the majority-green-screen movies. Just as the inky black and white with splashes of color made Sin City come alive, so does 300 make stunning visual use of its bronze, gold and sepia tones to create a Sparta that isn’t the gritty, realistic world of HBO’s Rome but is a dazzling fantasy come to life, a swashbuckling tale that doesn’t take place in a land long ago but in a lush land that never was.

King Leonidas (a wooden but thoroughly lust-worthy Gerard Butler) is the strong yet personable, principled yet pragmatic, regal yet wise-ass-ish king of Sparta, a land where men are men, women get to sass back and the weak are dropped in a ravine as infants. When a messenger from Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the jewel-encrusted, glam-boy king of the all-powerful Persia shows up and starts talking to Leonidas about submission and surrender, Leonidas kicks him and his men into a pit and readies for war. Though the corrupt and sleazy inbred priests won’t sanction his campaign, Leonidas gathers a loyal 300 Spartan soldiers and heads off to meet the thousands-large Persian army in hopes of holding them off until all the armies of Greece unite to fight back against the invaders.

By meeting the letter (he isn’t taking the whole Spartan army with him) but not the spirit of the law, Leonidas is putting his political position and family at risk, and yet his steadfast queen stands behind him. (And, really, when we see Leonidas’ tush silhouetted in the moonlight, that doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be.) Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) isn’t much of a cut-and-run girl herself. While Leonidas fights wave on wave of Persian soldier on the beaches of Greece, we see Gorgo wage an equally impressive battle against Theron (Dominic West, Jimmy McNaulty of The Wire), the slimiest of the Sparta council’s politicians.

Some of the loudest “yeah!”s in the theater were I saw this movie actually occurred during a scene where Gorgo shows her metal, and I can’t promise that one of those hearty “yeah!”s didn’t come from me. This is the kind of movie that gets you cheering, at least on the inside. It’s silly stuff but, just as rare as a thoughtfully constructed movie full of complex and multi-dimensional characters, 300 is fun movie that, again, if you like this sort of thing, makes you glad you made the trip to the theater.

Because it is a war movie and we are at war, I did find myself trying to figure out if the movie was making any kind of commentary on American politics. Were the loyal-to-the-end, freedom-or-death Spartans the Americans fighting off an army that is actually the ancient pre-cursor to the Iranian army? Or are we the seemingly unbeatable Persian army that is undone by the unbreakable will of people protecting their own homelands? Don’t know and I doubt the movie would actually claim a side. This is as close to a deep thought as the film gets and it doesn’t let you linger over it very long. Cartoonish and excessive as the violence is, it thoroughly commands your attention and doesn’t let you go until the credits.

Leave the thinking to the Athenians, this is Sparta. A-

Rated R for non-stop, absolutely kick-ass graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity. Directed by Zack Snyder and written by Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon and Frank Miller from a graphic novel by Miller and Lynn Varley, 300 is an hour and 56 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros. Pictures.