Watching The Four Feathers is akin to watching a Cliff's Notes version of an epic film; you know there's more, but that's not really important to the heart of the story. Or is it?
As it goes, the story is quite simple: Harry Faversham, about to be married, quits his post in the British army on the eve of his troop being shipped to the Sudan. His friends, his family, even his fiancée, Ethne, brand him a coward, sending Harry four white feathers. Soon, stories of the British troops being killed en masse, falling to Sudanese rebels, begin to spread. Upon hearing this, Harry decides to head to the Sudan on his own, and save his friends.
This is about the sixth film version of A.E.W. Mason's novel of the same name. The catch with this remake, when it was first announced, was that it was to be directed by "Bollywood" crossover Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth)-- less of a swashbuckler, and more of a revisionist epic, with British colonization under the microscope in much the same way as Dances With Wolves looked at cowboys and Indians. That may have been Kapur's intent, so much so that it led to one producer quitting, but it's not readily seen in this movie.
The Four Feathers is disjointed. There are parts that work, and others that just have you wondering about the who's, what's, and why's. Scenes bounce around, characters of obvious impact are introduced, paraded about, then strolled off the screen, and time flows in such a free-form way that you feel as though the film was mapped out with key set pieces, then filled in with random cuts and segues.
The film looks wonderful, thanks to cinematographer Robert Richardson. The acting is fine; Heath Ledger does a decent job as Harry Faversham, as does Wes Bentley, as Jack Durrance. Kate Hudson seems a little lost in the role of Ethne. Djimon Hounsou, as Abou, with whom Harry spends of his journey, seems cheated out of much larger role, though he is good in what we do get to witness.
And that sort of undercuts the whole film. The Four Feathers lacks depth or length. You just feel a little cheated. It's the first time in awhile I've felt that seeing more would have been, well, more. In an age where time and money are the leading directives of filmmaking, storytelling is getting chopped up to accommodate. The Four Feathers could have used a little more time and, in the process, become the epic it shows revealing glimmers of being.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
2 1/2 out of 5 There are some visually dynamic moments, but there are also six earlier versions and one TV movie of The Four Feathers that you might want to see first.
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