Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Four Feathers

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disturbing images, violence and some sensuality

Reviewed by: Megan Basham

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
2 hr. 7 min.
Year of Release:
Kate Hudson and Heath Ledger in “The Four Feathers” Djimon Hounsou in “The Four Feathers”

Starring: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen | Directed by: Shekhar Kapur | Produced by: Stanley R. Jaffe, Robert Jaffe, Marty Katz, Stanley Jaffe, Robert R. Jaffe | Written by: Michael Schiffer, Hossein Amini | Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Love triangles in 19th century England, epic battles in the Sudan, brutal African prison camps—sounds like the makings of a pretty riveting flick, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, “The Four Feathers” is long on style and short on substance, and never gets down to the business of really telling its story.

Heath Ledger plays Harry Faversham, a British soldier with every advantage. His father is a revered general, he is popular among good and loyal friends at his academy, and he is engaged to the lovely Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson). However, when Queen and country finally call on young Harry to live up to his training, fear gets the better of him and he turns tail and runs. In so doing, he earns the disgust of both his comrades and his fiancé, each of whom send him a white feather to symbolize his cowardice. Disgraced, Harry vows to atone for his weakness and follows his regiment, disguised as an Arab, to the Sudan.

The movie misses a major opportunity to connect with the viewers as it takes almost no time to develop Harry’s shame. In today’s cultural climate, disgrace over failure to live up to one’s patriotic duty is not easily understood. Frankly, if you want an audience raised after Vietnam to experience the blinding humiliation of cowardice, you’re going to have to spend some substantial time getting them there.

The same issue of under-development persists through the rest of the movie. Director Shekhar Kapur spends so much time creating his beautiful scenes, he has to leave out seemingly vital information. About two-thirds of the movie is spent showing the characters flailing about in the sand without ever telling us where they’re going or why they’re going there. The cause of the Sudanese army is never fully explained, and the motivation of Harry’s African protector is completely non-existent (The warrior does make some reference to its being God’s/Allah’s will, but considering all the other Muslims are trying to kill the English, this seems highly implausible.)

As far as it’s values are concerned, the film does embody positive themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and honor, but these are offset by overly gruesome cinematography and one extremely sensual scene involving an African prostitute. Overall, “The Four Feathers” is a mediocre movie at best.

Viewer Comments
Negative—The story of courage and loyalty is admirable but the movie of course includes unnecessary scenes such as a locker room scene in the beginning which shows rear male nudity (which isn’t mentioned in any review I have read) and the sex scene between the slaves. Nudity and sex scenes override any good in the movie for me.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Michelle, age 31
Positive—I think this movie is wonderful! The attention paid to the love we should feel towards our friends in amazing! This man risks his own life just so his friends will know that he will never desert them! Obviously it is not based on Christian principles, but I truly found nothing offensive in the least. I really don’t remember hearing cursing but maybe once, no nudity. There is violence, but it’s a war movie so you can’t hold that against it. However, the violence is not the kind that isn’t needed. It’s very compliant with the plot! Thumbs way up!
My Ratings: [Good / 4½]
—Mandy, age 21
Positive—I believe that this movie should be given more credit than what it has received. It is a story of love and the loyalty of one friend who stood by his friends even when they abandoned him. The only thing that would make this offensive would be the bloody scenes and intense moments. I believe the cast did a wonderful job and that it was refreshing to see a romance where it didn’t go like a fairy tale the whole time.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Heidi, age 18
Neutral—The Four Feathers was quite well done. However, do not expect to come away with an artificial uplifted feeling. This movie is about Christian sacrifice and duty (surprisingly enough), if you want pure entertainment look elsewhere. Despite the overlying Christian theme there is a completely unnecessary sex scene between two Black Slaves (who kill their owner and escape immediately afterward).
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Weston Zach, age 28
Positive—I thought the reviewer was rather hard on “The Four Feathers.” I had no trouble following the plot, and thought all of the characters were above reproach. It struck me deeply how, well, Christian everyone is. They uphold the same honor system and values that every man or woman of faith should. Characters are even shown in prayer (one man begs God for courage) and one interesting plot twist involves a character revealing that he’s helping another merely because “God put you in my path.” This is one of the more profound of the film’s elements… the character risks his life for someone else just because his God told him to. As Christians, we’re called to do the same—obey, not question. For me, that makes the movie worth it; the added elements of self-sacrifice (risking one’s life for a friend, honorably bowing out, keeping engagements, the code of honor and ethics) and nobility were only the icing on the cake. I would encourage parents to leave the kids home; but for older teens and adults, I feel that the message outweighs the brief sex scene and violence.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
Positive—My husband (who is a youth pastor) and I both thought The Four Feathers was a good movie-this is one we would feel comfortable taking friends and teens from the church to. The moral messages positively played out in this movie were numerous… bravery, loyalty to country, responsibility, a great message of true friendship… etc. My husband made the comment afterwards that there were several different scenes that he would consider using as visual aids for a lesson in youth group. As far as offensive material, this is one of the cleaner movies I’ve seen in awhile. Being a “war” movie, some violence is to be expected. However, I felt that it was all well written into the story and comparatively tame. I’m not sure what gruesome scene the reviewer is referring to. There is little to no swearing-I don’t remember any, but I may have missed a word or two. If it’s present, it’s not obvious. The sex scene referred to above, also did not strike me as offensive as the review makes it sound. It is a few seconds long, in the dark, and all you can see is heads and a kiss. Secondly, the woman was not a prostitute, but a Sudanese princess. The guide who was leading the troupe through the desert tried to pay her to “thank” Harry for saving her life, but in fact both she and Harry refused and nothing happened. No, the short implied sex scene was not necessary, but again, comparatively, it is pretty tame. We thought this was a good movie, full of great messages to spark good discussions afterwards. I think the PG-13 rating is very appropriate-don’t take small children, but a good movie for mature teens and adults.
My Ratings: [Good / 4]
—Becky, age 23
Positive—Together “Signs” and “Four Feathers” amount to a minor Christian revival as though complying with Pres. Bush’s call for a change of direction after the 9/11 disaster. The desperately contemptuous review of “Four Feathers” on the Internet Movie Database suggests that the godless and immoral consensus of the Clinton years appears to be slipping away. “Four Feathers” has the added dimension of reviving the ideal of Christian empire in retrospect.
My Ratings: [Good / 4]
—John Pilkey, age 60
Positive—Of course there were scenes added to the movie to appeal to those who live in the “world”. It gets to the point with the best of movies, turn your eyes and wait for the scene to pass. What I really liked about the movie was the fact that although Abu starts out caring for Harry out of obligation—it ends with true brotherly love between these two. Also, when Harry returns, he does not “trumpet” how terrific he was to save his friends life—in fact, he plans to bow out of Ethne’s life. It is only when the friend discovers that it was Harry that saved his life does all come to light. I came away from this movie feeling great and of course as a Christian, took away many thoughts about our responsibility to others and being selfless in a selfish world. This is one I will buy on video.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Gail, age 40
Movie Critics
Positive—“…an excellent redemptive movie that, despite its flaws, should be seen by mature Christian audiences everywhere. In fact, it’s well worth seeing at least twice, if not more times, to catch everything in it…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
Comments from young people
Negative—I thought this movie was going to be great because of all the hype and the previews looked great. Wow! I couldn’t have been further from the truth. There was no real plot to it and there was too much violence/gore. I understand it’s a war movie but it was over the top. To boot there was a very “shady” scene between an African prostitute that was unecessary. Don’t see this movie ever.
My Ratings: [Average / 2½]
—Allison, age 16
Positive—The acting is very good. The young stars are convincing and do their best with their sometimes boring lines. I think Heath Ledger is not your standard young actor—not many young actors would chose to do a very serious film where half the time he is starving, getting beat up or dragging himself across a desert—you can’t look too handsome and do all this. Ledger pulls it off and isn’t vain about his unglamorous role. The film looked beautiful, I loved the costumes and the scenery. In the spiritual aspect, God is mentioned several times, through soldiers’ prayers. Muslims also pray to God (they don’t use the name “Allah” in the film). The movie is violent and deserves its PG-13 rating: there are stabbings, shootings, a couple whipping scenes, but all are generally bloodless. There is some sex in the film. The movie could be confusing and the last ten minutes dragged on and on. It left some holes in the story (if you see it, you might understand). But I thought the film was interesting and dramatic. The action sequence of the British forming a square of soldiers to take on a huge attack was well-shot. I liked the pretty piano theme in the movie’s musical score—I thought it fit the story very well. The movie is too serious to go to for fun, it might be better to see it if you have any interest in the history, or have read the book, or like the actors. Throughout most of the movie, the characters are fighting, crying, or dying of dehydration (my friend said it was very depressive). But I liked it, and I thought this film portrayal of Harry Faversham’s journey to overcome his cowardice—and eventually save his friends—was exciting and insightful, as well as morally significant.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Hannah Chen, age 15
Positive—I thought that this movie was very good. It had great action in it. Especially with the square scene. The film work on that was just beautiful. I think that this movie was one of Heath Legder’s top 10. He is definitely a rising star. It wasn’t until about halfway of 3/4 of the way through the movie that I started to stand Kate Hudson’s character Ethne. I think they could have cast someone better suited for that part than her. Wes Bentley did a good job as well.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Sara, age 16