The Four Feathers
Not Tickling Anyone’s FancyBy Kevin Der
The Four Feathers
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Written by A.E.W. Mason, Michael Schiffer
Starring Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, Wes Bentley
When discussing the film The Four Feathers, it is probably enough to note that it was out-grossed at the box office in its first weekend of release by a movie based on a Game Boy Advance video game. For those few who might like to know more, however, not many words are needed to describe the example of abysmal filmmaking that is The Four Feathers.
The movie is based on the novel of the same name by A.E.W. Mason and is the fifth such film adaptation to date. Set in 1898, it follows Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger, The Patriot), a British officer whose father is a general. Engaged to a beautiful woman named Ethne (Kate Hudson), Harry is a highly respected soldier until he resigns from the army after discovering that he and his fellow soldiers are being sent to the Sudan to protect Egyptians against the invading desert armies of the Mahdi.
Subsequently shunned by his fiancÉe and fellow soldiers, Harry receives four white feathers from them symbolizing his cowardice, somewhat the antithesis of Crane’s red badge of courage. From there, the branded soldier proceeds to disguise himself as an Arab, journey to the Sudan, and engage in all kinds of phony acts of heroism which destroy a plot which had somewhat made sense during the first fifteen minutes. The character of Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator) somehow surfaces as an escaped slave in the desert who helps Harry, though his motives are impossible to understand and his presence simply blurs the film further.
In terms of acting, Ledger’s performance is not the worst part of this film, though it comes close. Compounded by the nonsensical storyline, Ledger’s failed attempts to express emotion throughout the film result in the fact that the audience cannot care less whether he lives or dies. Not surprisingly, Kate Hudson’s attempt to play the suffering maiden is also a disaster. Her contributions here cannot compare to her notable performance in Almost Famous.
The one acting performance with some credit belongs to Wes Bentley, who plays Jack Durrance, one of Harry’s comrades who lusts after Ethne. Best known for his portrayal of the teenage drug-dealing cameraman in American Beauty, Bentley offers the only adequate example of suffering in the entire film. In one concluding scene, however, Bentley is engaged in the most important moment of the film but fails to convey it properly due to the silly script and irrational dialogue.
Furthermore, the symbolism of the four feathers, the basis of the whole story, is both clichÉ and ineffective. It is employed in such a way that no one cares that Harry keeps the feathers as his continues along his path of suffering. It also seems that the film attempts to discuss the themes of religion, imperialism, hypocrisy, courage, and sacrifice all at once, but is unsuccessful on every level.
Visually, the film includes an ample amount of action sequences, including one in which British soldiers in a square formation fight off waves of armed Mahdi horsemen. Aside from this single scene, which is somewhat entertaining, the audience has no need to see unoriginal, pointless images of bloody corpses or infested prison cells filled with starving prisoners. This amount of graphil violence, somewhat surprising for the film’s rating of PG-13, adds nothing to the movie.
In addition, it is no surprise that James Horner’s musical score for the film is mediocre. Though Horner is an experienced composer, the only noteworthy works from his entire career are the scores for Braveheart and Titanic. In this instance, the composer uses piano during the love scenes involving Hudson and the standard brass for the action cues, altogether forming an unoriginal work of music, as one would expect for a film of such low overall quality.
After watching this film, it becomes obvious what results when combining substandard acting, a poor story, and inane dialogue. Instead of wasting money on a movie ticket, spend it on an overpriced salad. On a serious note, though, if you liked films such as Jurassic Park III and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, you will greatly enjoy The Four Feathers.