Reel Shorts | 300

8 03 2007

Hollywood has a love affair with warriors. Recently, we’ve had William Wallace (Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”), Achilles (Brad Pitt in “Troy”) and Maximus (Russell Crowe in “Gladiator”). But in “300,” we’ve finally found one warrior to rule them all.

Based on the epic graphic novel by Frank Miller (“Sin City”), “300” is the ferocious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his buffed and barely-clad 300 Spartans fought to the death against Persian ruler Xerxes and his massive army. Facing insurmountable odds, the Spartan’s valor and sacrifice inspired all of Greece to unite to beat back the Persian threat.

From an early age, Leonidas is taught fierce pride in his homeland, Sparta. Soon, according to Greek custom, he is taken from his mother and forced to survive in the wilderness.

While in training, young Leonidas encounters a large vicious wolf. Frightened, but poised he uses the animal’s size to its disadvantage, killing him. Later in his life, he would duplicate the strategy in his battle with the Persians. Upon completing his mission, he is made King and leader of the most disciplined fighting unit ever assembled.

Fast forward 30 years later and Leonidas’ peaceful rule is interrupted when he receives an unexpected guest with and important message. The Persian messenger informs him that Ruler Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) wants the people of Sparta to submit and fall under his rule. After giving it some token thought, Leonidas and his men quickly send their own message to their Persian guests – “you can’t come up in Sparta talkin’ that ****,” as they drop-kick them down a deep, dark hole.

Leonidas rallies his men need to defend Sparta and the freedom enjoy. Unfortunately, it won’t be a fair fight, because Xerxes’ armies is close to a million strong. All Leonidas has at his disposal is 300 troops and some additional volunteers. But as Djay (Terrence Howard) told Skinny Black (Ludacris) in “Hustle and Flow,” “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”

Boy, is there plenty of fight in the Spartans. Their fighting personalities can best be described as a mix of Army Rangers, Navy Seals and an elite Marine Corp fighting unit. They are truly some bad men. They engage and hold their ground against the arrogant Persians, displaying tremendous courage and incredible heart against overwhelming odds.

With constant cries throughout the film of “This is Sparta,” the only thing missing in this visually arresting completely over-the-top affair was an agitated Samuel L. Jackson screaming obscenities back at the fiery Greeks. With its slow-motion shots and six-pack toting warriors, one could mistake 300 for a music video, but the burningly passionate lead performance of Gerard Butler as Leonidas gives the film much needed depth.

On the other side, there’s the androgynous Xerxes who is portrayed as a effeminate giant with a gold and piercing fetish. You keep waiting for him to say, “I’m so pretty,” and who could argue. He and his strange, dark-skinned overweight group of arrogant, self-obsessed troops are residing in a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah. They provide a stark contrast to the perfectly-sculpted Spartans.

The film is also historically inaccurate because the real battle featured over a thousand men and Persia’s fighting force only number 300,000. But Hollywood will never let truth get in the way of a good story. While failing as a history lesson, 300 takes Troy and Gladiator to the next level. The film is an exhilarating butt-kicking spectacle that looks and feels like a hint of summer in the spring.

Grade: B

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