FOUR FEATHERS, THE
When soldier’s son and officer, Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger), resigns on the eve of his regiment’s posting to the British Empire’s rebellious Sudan in 1875, his fellow officers, like Jack (Wes Bentley) and even his fiancee Ethne (Kate Hudson) consider him a coward – and each sends him the traditional white feather insult. His father disowns him. Tortured by self doubt and not sure whether he is a coward or just against this imperial war, Harry sets off for Sudan when he hears of the dangers his regiment faces, not quite sure what he’ll be able to do. Once there, he meets up with a muscle-bound and merciful mercenary, Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), who takes him under his wing. Hiding in Arab clothes, Harry gets behind enemy lines but his efforts to warn his regiment of impending disaster are foiled by his army friends’ arrogance. In the bloody battle that follows, Harry gets to redeem his honour, at a great price.
Review by Andrew L. Urban (UNFAVOURABLE):
It may be that the screenplay does a great disservice to the novel which inspired it, because it turns the work into an interminable melodrama with lacklustre characters and dreary dialogue. The film not only fails in setting its historical context within our grasp, it fails to establish any of the characters beyond perfunctory outlines. Heath Ledger is thrown into a difficult role with a clunky set of emotional touchstones to hit; he tries courageously. Kate Hudson shines through in another flatly written role, and the rest of the cast are treated as plot fodder. Perhaps the biggest problem is the editing, but it’s hard to tell whether it’s induced by the director’s vision or the exigencies of the script. Or perhaps the impossible task of reducing the book to film length. Time compression and leaps in plot development weaken our interest as we lose the plot. Another major flaw is the cinematography: not so much the technical and creative aspects, which are excellent, but the decision to rely so much on close ups, when mid shots are what we need to see. Close ups, often with a moving camera, capture none of the sense of perspective we wish for in many sequences, cutting us off from participating. The film ends up without nailing the love drama, and without nailing the political poignancy of its story, about Muslim Arabs rebelling against British rule. War was then, as it seems to be now, the only way Muslims and Christians could get close to each other.
Review by Louise Keller (UNFAVOURABLE):
An epic disaster from start to finish, The Four Feathers is a very sorry affair for all concerned. Although Shakhar Kapur would have to shoulder a great deal of the blame, barbs can also be thrust at Michael Schiffer’s unengaging screenplay, Steven Rosenblum’s disjointed editing and a lacklustre performance from our Heath. The film is excessively and tediously overlong – I felt as though I had walked through the desert myself, with no mirage in sight. So what went wrong? An ambitious story about love and courage, The Four Feathers tries to be Lawrence of Arabia with a central love triangle, with a story of heroism, brotherly love, loyalty and paternal approval thrown in for good measure. And the four white feathers - the symbol of cowardice - manage to successfully be kept safe with the protagonist throughout all his ordeals and near-death experiences, so he can occasionally look at them (in close up) and take them home with him again. It’s a miscalculation on all counts, and a sorry spectacle that never works. The storyline jumps here, there and everywhere and we feel strangely disconnected throughout. Even the spectacular battle sequence in the middle of the desert, which should be impressive by anyone’s standards with camels and horses approaching from all directions, falls somewhat flat when we don’t really know what is happening. It must be said, however, that the settings are splendid, with its exotic Moroccan locations and vast desert whose curves and shadows seem to extend forever. And the English locations such as Hyde Claire Castle and Blenheim Palace (where Winston Churchill was born), are regal and full of tradition and ceremony. But Heath Ledger is totally un-charismatic, and instead of following his plight sympathetically, found myself rooting for Wes Bentley’s patriotic Jack Durrance. Bentley gives a terrific performance, making the most of the script to hand, and creating a character with whom we can relate. Kate Hudson, restrained by a dull role, shows plenty of style with her understatement, and the non-existent charisma between Ledger and Hudson does nothing for the film’s emotional heart. Even James Horner’s large orchestral score seems to lack innovation – the music is rather formulaic and never leaves us with a heart-felt poignancy. ‘No feathers to Horner,’ says Brad Green in his soundtrack review on another page. Adding insult to injury, after nearly two and a half hours of misconceived artistry, the ending leaves us incredulous. The Four Feathers is a disappointment of immeasurable proportions.
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FOUR FEATHERS, THE (M15+)
CAST: Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, Wes Bentley, Tim Piggott Smith, Djimon Hounsou
PRODUCER: Paul Feldsher, Robert D. Jaffe, Stanley R. Jaffe, Marty Katz
DIRECTOR: Shekhar Kapur
SCRIPT: Michael Schiffer (from A.E.W. Mason novel)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson
EDITOR: Steven Rosenblum
MUSIC: James Horner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Allan Cameron
RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 5, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: December 10, 2003