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The Four Feathers (PG-13)
Paramount Pictures
Official Site
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Producers: Robert Jaffe, Stanley R. Jaffe, Marty Katz
Written by: Hossein Amini
Cast: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou, Kate Hudson, Lucy Gordon, Alex Jennings, Kris Marshall, Rupert Penry-Jones, Michael Sheen

Rating: out of 5

The Four Feathers is generally what you expect from a splashy costume drama: excellent acting, an epic journey and great costumes. Except for the costumes, which I guess couldn’t really be spiced up too much from the drudgery of the sand and the monochromatic red coats, The Four Feathers aptly provides heady doses of drama and emotion to give you no less than what you expect—and that’s the problem.

Harry Feversham (Ledger) is an aristocratic British soldier engaged to the beautifully demure Ethne (Hudson). When he and his military friends, including best friend Jack (Bentley), receive the order to depart and fight in the Sudan, Harry resigns his commission. After his departure, his three friends and his fiancé send him each a white feather signifying his cowardice. To redeem himself Harry sets off after his friends to save each of them in the desert to his own peril.

Although the plot is dated (A.E.W. Mason wrote the novel back near the turn of the last century), the emotions of courage and helplessness that Harry feels are very much palpable. It takes guts to stand up for what you believe and his character resonates with earnestness in his convictions.

We see Harry surprisingly transform little as he journeys on his epic adventure. All he comes back with is a different haircut and a bit more bravery. I guess it matters little that he doesn’t change much since his closest friends do enough changing for them all. Ethne and Jack conveniently learn the value of loyalty and honesty, while the sun-bronzed Harry is as resolute as before.

Powerful performances from Heath Ledger and Djimon Hounsou carried the movie that spanned for more than two hours. While in the desert, Harry encounters mercenary warrior, Abou Fatma (Hounsou), who soon becomes his friend and constant rescuer. The best parts of the film are the ones involving Harry and Abou, which play out like a typical, but tender buddy movie where the characters share laughs, tears and friendship.

Brotherly love is felt throughout the film and is never more poignant than when Harry saves his best friend Jack in the desert. Blinded and groping around, Jack cries on Harry’s shoulder and presents a convincing scene that might make you evaluate your own friendships.

The only thing that stuck out in the film was the musical score provided by James Horner (Titanic, A Beautiful Mind). With native chanting more strident than that of The English Patient’s score and weighty orchestration, the music was a bit melodramatic and ruined the mood of the beginning scenes and key battle sequences.

The Four Feathers by no means rivals Kapur’s previous masterpiece, Elizabeth, which chronicled the Virgin Queen’s rise to the throne and occasional sexual exploits. Kapur adds another sweeping epic to his resume and one can only wonder whether his next project will continue his consuming interest in India’s former colonizers.

Other than the powerful acting and dramatic scenes, nothing really stays with you from the film. There are neither questions to ponder nor themes to interpret. The Four Feathers is just a pretty period piece that probably won’t have a whole lot of repeat viewership. Even with its heavy emotion and intense journey, it’s a featherweight in its class.

Editor’s note: The 1939 Zoltan Korda version is much, much better.

—Jennifer Prestigiacomo


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