Reviewed by: Megan Basham
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.