September 2002
The Four Feathers

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

The Four Feathers

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Producers: Robert D. Jaffe, Stanley R. Jaffe, & Martz Katz
Screenplay: Michael Schiffer & Hossein Amini, based on the novel by A.E. W Mason
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Music: James Horner
Running Time: 125 min
Cast: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, & Djimon Hounsou

Just like Shakespeare, some novels have been made into films several times. There have numerous versions of “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “Tom Sawyer” and even “Carmen Jones”. Now comes another version of A.E. W Mason’s novel, “The Four Feathers.” The difference that comes out in this film is that it’s been politically corrected for today’s audience. On the heels of his Oscar nominated film, Elizabeth, Director Shekhar Kapur has captured the essence of the story but leaves questions unanswered. While the 1939 version detailed the account of a coward looking to redeem himself, Kapur has added friendship and betrayal to the mix, which leaves the film with no meaning at its end. Nevertheless, the acting carries the film as well as the cinematography.

We first see Harry Feversham (Ledger) playing rugby with his best friend Jack (Bentley). As they run to score the winning goal, Harry’s girlfriend, Ethne (Hudson), sits in the stands. Harry, Jack, along with Trench (Michael Sheen), Castleton (Kris Marshall), and Willoughby (Rupert Penry-Jones), are all part of the army. Jack has always had thing for Ethne but settled to just being her friend. Just as Harry proposes to Ethne, he learns that his unit will be off to war in Africa against the Muslins in Sudan. Never wanting to join the army in the first place, Harry fears death and after a long hard night, he resigns his commission without telling his friends. When Ethne won’t support his decision, she, along with Trench, Castleton, and Willoughby send Harry four white feathers, symbolizing cowardice. Only Jack stays loyal. Faced with disapproval from his father, a general in the army, and the loss of respect from his fiancée and friends, Harry musters whatever courage he has left to redeem himself. Using his financial means, Harry goes to Sudan and disguises himself as a native to help his friends who are in grave danger. With the help of an Arab tribesman (Hounsou), Harry goes all out to gain the respect he lost even if it puts his life in danger.

At first glance at the actors’ name, one might think that each one may not carry his or her weight to play their part, but the acting is distinguished throughout, with Ledger splendid in a commanding role. Hounsou, who’s no stranger to playing the buddy/mentor role, is great as Abou. His guardian angel serves as the light that carries Harry through his journey, and Hounsou nearly steals the picture with his wisdom and physical presence. Director Kapur has done a good job in keeping the key elements of the story (heroism, and friendship) but let a few mistakes fall through the cracks. There’s a lot said and done off-screen that could have used in the film to spell out the quick edits. In one scene, one man is wounded in the middle of the desert, and in the next scene he’s back home tending his wounds. Aside from those quibbles, the cinematography is stunning. From the elegant dance, to the costumes, to the shot of the desert, the scenes are magnificent. In homage to his last film, Shakur has place Queen Elizabeth in a scene. The highlight of the cinematography is within the battle scene, as an overhead shot of the four squares will be talked about. Much has been made about the English and it politics during each version, but they don’t seem to matter when the central focus is on one man’s quest to be a hero for once. “The Four Feathers” is definitely worth seeing.


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