Review: The Four Feathers

The film is tedious and overblown even at a surprisingly short two hours.

The Four Feathers
Photo: Paramount Pictures

In Shekhar Kapur’s The Four Feathers, Brit officer Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) goes yellow when the English army is ready to ship out to Sudan. Though best friend Jack (Wes Bentley) defends his decision, Harry receives four white feathers from his friends and fiancée (ouch!) symbolizing his cowardice. Harry pulls a John Walker Lindh in Arab country for the duration of Britain’s imperialist war, saving his fellow countrymen from themselves and restoring his honor in the process. Indian-born Kapur directs in white-face—he accounts for Mason’s imperialist concerns via one line of dialogue and reduces the film’s entire minority cast to fashion statements. As Harry’s spiritual sidekick Abou Fatma, Djimon Hounsou (always a slave!) enters stage left and leaves as soon as gentrified order is restored. No doubt conscious of Hounsou’s reductive plight, Kapur lets the actor close the film on camelback. Still, none of the film’s offenses quite competes with the sight of Kate Kudson trying to keep an English accent together while strapped beneath a dripping cloak—her Ethne Eustace may be the last woman any man would want to come home to. The James Horner score is all ethnic chant, to which the film’s exotic women and evil men vogue and remove clothing to in perfect sync. The film itself has been seemingly pieced together from a variation of the same four shots: gorgeous desertscape (as shot by the brilliant Robert Richardson, sand here is penetrable), letters falling to the ground, Ledger twirling a feather and a green-meadow-plus-horse-drawn-carriage signifying tea-drinking England. For variety’s sake, Kapur frequently throws in a dramatic, million-dollar overhead. If Kapur reimagined 16th-century England as pop spectacle in the deliriously overbaked Elizabeth, Four Feathers is considerably less inspired. Tedious and overblown even at a surprisingly short two hours (are those Harvey Weinstein’s hands all over the second half’s choppy cutting?), Four Feathers is the movie made for the teeny boopers who don’t want to read the book. The Miramax/Paramount muscle is predictably pushing this latest remake of AEW Mason’s colonialist potboiler as Titanic by way of The English Patient but the results are more akin to a high school production of Pearl Harbor.

 Cast: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Kris Marshall, Rupert-Penry Jones, Tim Pigott-Smith  Director: Shekhar Kapur  Screenwriter: Hossein Amini, Michael Schiffer  Distributor: Paramount Pictures  Running Time: 125 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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