For those of us who grew up reading the Greek and Latin classics, the story of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans was certainly the stuff of legends. 300 men hold off the entire Persian army under Xerxes for a considerable period of time, inspiring all of the Greek city states to rise up and resist the invaders in an even more all out battle later at Platea. I have actually always wanted to see a movie about Spartan culture and its 'warrior' mentality and fierce independence, a culture that defies most modern notions of machismo by having women who were educated and trained to be as athletic and ferocious as the men, in many cases. This culture was so freedom loving and fiercely independent that they had a hard time even co-operating with other Greek city states, even when their independence was on the line.
With this story line, Frank Miller (of Sin City fame) brings to the screen an action thriller in comic book style and color (sepia tones and reds, with some scenes reminiscent of Gladiator) with larger than life action and characters and hyperbole. Surprisingly enough it works rather well. The story is only minimally diddled with, and there is very little filler, or unnecessary sub-plotting added. The focus of the movie not surprisingly is on Leonidas, a few stirring speeches he makes, and the battle scenes themselves. There are of course CG action sequences that are larger and more dramatic than life, and we have the usual gargoyles that show up in comic books, but not actually at the battle of Thermopylae. But then this was not intended to be a documentary, but rather a hyperbolic dramatization.
For what it is, this movie is stunning, especially in terms of cinematography. The scene with the prophetess on top of the mountain, or the emissary confronting Leonidas, or Leonidas confronting Xerxes are hard to get out of your brain. There are of course some gory scenes, but the movie is not gore galore, or gore for its own sake. Miller is depicting the brutality of war, especially in such a primitive form. There is too much graphic violence for young folks in this movie, and it is indeed graphic and grainy, earning its R rating for violence. My son suggested it be seen as Miller's Braveheart movie. Fair enough. That's a good analogy, though there is less pathos in this movie, and certainly more buff warriors showing off their washboard abs. And there is also far less star power in this movie, which makes it all the more effective in some ways. Particularly well done is the story telling of the relationship between Leonidas and his wife and Leondias and his leading warriors.
Clocking in at under two hours, this movie doesn't really have any dead zones or filler, and it is so visually gripping and difference that there is always something to get your attention. Don't expect this movie to win any Oscars, except for pioneering cinematography, but it is a well done movie of its particular genre. As it sits atop the movie charts at present one wonders how much this movie is meant to play to the warrior instincts or mentality in parts of our own culture. Whether it is or not, the Spartans were absolutely the Marines or their day, making ordinary warriors look weak and vulnerable. You will have to decide whether that whole approach to problem solving is itself a strength or a weakness, but no one could question these men's courage and commradry in the face of overwhelming odds.