I went and saw this movie last week. I’d been anticipating it for quite a while and with all the hype (albeit I was trying to avoid most of it) I went in with little trepidation as well. The anticipation turned out to be warranted and the trepidation turned out to greatly over-exaggerated.
The movie is stunning visually. It’s gorgeous to watch and that alone is worth the price of admission. The computer effects while definitely prominent and slick don’t over-shadow either the story or the cast of characters – which for me is what made the film. Zack Snyder has a good eye for direction here and his cinematographer Larry Fong punches some wonderful composition, even if based on Miller’s graphic novel. One of my very favorite scenes, the dance of the oracle, barely lasts 30 seconds but was so gorgeously filmed it was breathtaking.
But, as most of my friends now, given my background in the performing arts, I tend to be slightly hyper-critical of certain aspects of film and theatre that most of the general populous overlooks. So there needs to be more than just pretty pictures for me.
Let’s start with the good and the aspects of a film that always need to engage me. Story and acting. The story is pretty simple and Snyder (via Miller) stays true and clean to his story. I felt it moved well, for the most part (see below) and kept my attention. Little subtle hints to other esoteric ideas from the film were also nice giving the world a feeling of history (and since it is based – loosely – on real history that was an important issue.
The acting is also handled well. Gerard Butler is terrific. When I watched some of the trailers I was terrified it was going to be over-the-top acting – which usually succeeds in driving me to the brink of Armageddon – but Butler pushes the envelope but almost never goes past. It’s a wonderful nuanced performance and if you really pay attention you see a lot of subtlety – even in the larger-than-life depiction. The other members of the 300, while smaller in size of role, nevertheless came along with Butler and matched him ounce for ounce. They make up a unit that you feel lived, breathed and died for each other. No more, no less. I was particularly fond of Vincent Regan and Michael Fassbender. When Regan’s Captain goes ballistic it’s visceral and gut-wrenching and you can beat your sweet butt I wouldn’t want to be within 10 miles of the man.
Now for the bad. And these are very, very slight grievances. First story bad. There is a 10 minute segment about 50 minutes into the film that I wasn’t particularly crazy about. It’s the sequence that involves the introduction of the various different ‘cultures’ in Xerxes conquered army. Now, I’m fully aware that as a story this is a tale being recited by Dilios (played by David Wenham) and as such is rightly exaggerated as a good storyteller should (and Leonidas himself choose Dilios for this very reason) but the fantastically nature of the mutated giant, the killer elephants and the charging monster rhinoceros for me was the one place that the story felt derailed. It wasn’t that it was ‘cool’ to look at and it wasn’t that it was well done it just felt that the story didn’t need it. Watching these guys take on this armada and their reactions to each charge and assault was quite compelling enough. It went just a step too far in the realm of over-the-top (unlike Butler as I said who knew how to get just up to the edge and hover) that it pulled me out.
As to the acting, there were two I’m going to pick on in particular. One in part and one in general (and this one was the biggest problem I had with the film overall). The first, and only slightly annoying, was a scene involving Lena Headey. For almost the entire movie I thought she was wonderful. Powerful. Strong. Beautiful. Intelligent. And then came the scene in the senate house. She’s given a monologue of inspiration. And it was not up to the standards of the rest of the film. Granted some of this had to do with the one place I felt Snyder’s direction fell flat – it almost felt like he was directing a stage play in this scene instead of a film. But Headey’s overzealousness in this scene felt contrived. It was her one fallen moment. The last was Wenham (mentioned above.) Yes, he was Faramir. But I think now I understand why Jackson greatly reduced the role of Farmair in Lord of the Rings. He’s just not very good. He felt forced. And pushed. He has this wonderful opportunity for a Henry V-esque rally speech at the end of the movie and as with the entire rest of the movie when he is on camera I felt like he was putting on an act. As if he never believed. He didn’t feel like a Spartan. He didn’t buy 100% into the world and the lifestyle and the guts and the glory. Unfair? Perhaps overtime as I see more from him it’ll change.
So there you have it, my take on a terrific film. This will definitely be a DVD purchase for me as I liked it that much.