The Four Feathers

"Unbearable"

The Four Feathers Review


All sweeping desert vistas and melodramatic 19th Century British imperial clichés (updated with politically correct tisk-tisking, of course), Shekhar Kapur's "The Four Feathers" is a hollow-hearted epic for the sake of an epic.

The tedious seventh film adaptation of A.E.W. Manson's turn-of-the-Century flag-waving war novel about the heroic redemption of craven English army officer, the film stars Heath Ledger ("A Knight's Tale," "Monster's Ball") as Harry Feversham, a highly respected young soldier who resigns his commission -- for reasons related to panic, not principle -- just as his regiment is being shipped off for the first time to battle Sudanese rebels.

"I never wanted to join the army," he whines. "I did it for my father. I thought I'd serve out my commission a year or two."

Branded a coward by his officer chums and even his fiancée (Kate Hudson, "Almost Famous"), Harry soon has an off-screen change of heart (the audience isn't privy to where he finds the resolve) and heads to Africa on his own, determined to redeem his honor.

Kapur ("Elizabeth") gets off on the wrong foot by failing to connect with Harry's heart on this matter. One minute our hero truly seems a coward despite the soundtrack's sappy insistence that we sympathize with him. A few shorthand scenes later, the ill-prepared aristocrat is traversing the desert alone, sporting a few weeks' growth of beard and ready to collapse from exhaustion and dehydration.

Rescued by a wandering African tribesman (typecast Djimon Hounsou from "Amistad" and "Gladiator") who just happens to be passing by, Harry soon has himself made up to look Arabic (although I doubt he'd fool anyone from the Middle East) so he can become a munitions-hauling servant for his own ex-battalion. He plans to bide his time until an opportunity to rescue his accusers from certain death presents itself. Along for the ride is the tribesman, Abou Fatma, who has pledged to protect Harry in that Noble Savage way native peoples so often do in Euro-centric adventure movies.

The fact that Harry is scared to death about all this could have made for a complex hero with interesting psychological obstacles to overcome. But while Ledger's performance in "The Four Feathers" is passively earnest, the character is so ill-defined there's simply nothing for the viewer to latch on to. Being stuck in a sandy wasteland feels like this guy's day job. Kapur never show Harry learning the ways of the desert, speaking any language but English or doing much for himself. Fatma has to save his butt time and again, and Harry's fear never manifests itself. We know next to nothing about him, save that he's bent on recovering his self-respect and the respect of his friends.

As you might expect when the hero is this one-dimensional, most of the movie's supporting characters are utterly indistinguishable. Wes Bentley ("American Beauty"), Michael Sheen ("Wilde") and a couple other actors I'm not even going to look up in the press kit play Harry's stiff-upper-lip accusers, each of whom find themselves in peril at some point, allowing our disguised protagonist to swoop in during extravagant, bloody desert battle sequences and save their lives amidst the musket smoke, dust and charging horses. Meanwhile, the rest of the imperialist English soldiers still get slaughtered so the movie can score its modern-perspective political points.

Even though "The Four Feathers" feels as if it goes on forever (in part because it has a poor sense of time passage), the picture was obviously edited down to just over two hours from a much longer first cut. It's riddled with plot holes, historical inaccuracies, a soap-operatic love triangle and Hollywood modernizations like contemporary hairstyles and fight scenes with head-butts. Blatantly designed to be a lavish Oscar magnet, the film also has "studio interference" written all over it, which comes as no surprise since micromanaging Miramax (which co-funded the film with Paramount) is notoriously director-unfriendly.

This may be why the film lacks emotional resonance. But it still doesn't explain common sense gaffes, as when Fatma says goodbye to Harry in the middle of the desert after one of the movie's false climaxes (there are at least two places Kapur could have ended it before he finally does much later). If the tribesman is supposed to be Harry's guardian, shouldn't he at least escort the man back to a town or port where he can arrange for transportation home?

A whole host of other otherwise shrug-able missteps pile up throughout the movie to the point of distraction -- including the very poor English spoken by these supposed British blue bloods (frilly fiancée Hudson refers to a group of friends as "You and her and Jack and I"), and the complete lack of backstory for Fatma. No explanation is given of how he knows English. No mention is made of where the rest of his tribe might be (he's clearly not local). He's just a mud-caked aborigine from Central Casting.

But such blunders are simply symptoms of the movie's problem as a whole: Far more effort went into making "The Four Feathers" seem grand and important than went into making it feel real, natural or sincere.



The Four Feathers

Facts and Figures

Run time: 132 mins

In Theaters: Friday 20th September 2002

Box Office USA: $18.2M

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Production compaines: London Film Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Fresh: 62 Rotten: 88

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Khalifa, John Clements as Harry Faversham, as John Durrance, June Duprez as Ethne Burroughs, Allan Jeayes as General Faversham, as Lieutenant Willoughby, Donald Gray as Peter Burroughs

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

Advertisement
The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Partisan Movie Review

Partisan Movie Review

With his feature debut, young Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman tells a creepy story about a...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.