The Four Feathers

Context is everything, and for The Four Feathers, the near complete lack of it makes for a movie missing its core. This is the sixth adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's beloved novel, and seems curiously out of date. The first four adaptations were all made prior to 1940, and the movie itself takes place in the golden age of the British Empire. Archaic Victorian societal customs are at their height, and this version makes no attempt to explain any of them. Concepts like honor and cowardice are supremely important in that time, and woefully out of date now. The title refers to four white feathers given to Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger, Monster's Ball, A Knight's Tale) denoting cowardice. Being branded a coward is enough reason for Harry to travel across the world to reclaim his honor. Considering that the principal stars in The Four Feathers all appeal primarily towards younger viewers, it would serve this movie well to better explain to its audience who are probably baffled as to why some feathers would cause such a stir.

Harry does not want to go to the Sudan, where the British are fighting the Mahdi. Why are the British fighting them? The movie never says. He is newly engaged to the beautiful Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson, Dr. T & the Women, Almost Famous), but deep down, he is scared. Upon resigning his commission, three of his fellow soldiers give him feathers, and Ethne gives him the fourth. Harry sets off for the Sudan, with a desire to overcome his cowardice and win back Ethne and his friends driving him forward. He has no clue how to deal with the desert, so he finds help from Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Deep Rising), a British spy. In the Sudan, things are not going well for Harry's friends. The British are unaware that the Mahdi have overtaken a fort and are planning an ambush. Harry's best friend Jack (Wes Bentley, Soul Survivors, The Claim) is also making his move on Ethne.

The Four Feathers is a beautiful film to look at, mainly because of director Shekhar Kapur's (Elizabeth, Bandit Queen) eye for scenery. The sets of the British upper class reek with distinction, and the Sudanese desert looks beautiful and forbidding at the same time. The battle scenes are also intense, and further how antiquated British fighting styles are. It's a shame that the acting and story, adapted by Michael Schiffer (The Peacemaker, Crimson Tide) and Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, Jude) never matches the scenery. First, Harry's quest for redemption is also a quest to win back his fiancee. So part of the motivation is for honor, the rest is for more selfish reasons. The two are connected, but this cheapens the overall effect of his quest.

The movie is also much too long. A good ending place takes place about half an hour before the film actually ends. It may tie up all the loose ends, but stretches the already strained credibility of the Harry character. Bentley, Hudson, and Ledger do okay in their roles. None of them particularly stand out, and Bentley have relatively little screen time. Again, they are an odd choice given the subject matter of the film. It is a little too epic and not romantic enough for their usual fans. Hounsou has the worst role, that of the 'noble savage.' The Four Feathers' depictions of Muslims is also antiquated, and especially discouraging given the state of international affairs today. Even with all these criticisms, The Four Feathers is still a moderately enjoyable film. It just goes to show the power of the source material can sometimes peek through a mediocre adaptation.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disturbing images, violence and some sensuality.

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