Volume 96, Issue 15
Tuesday, September 24, 2002

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Four Feathers
Is Heath Ledger a big coward? The answer below

The Four Feathers
Starring: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou, Kate Hudson
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur

By Brent Carpenter
Gazette Staff

Alex Bailey/Paramount Pictures

Watching The Four Feathers is the cinematic equivalent of receiving a huge box on your birthday, wrapped in shiny paper and sealed with a big red bow. At first sight you think "oooh, ahhh," but upon looking inside, you find there's not much there.

The Four Feathers, directed by famed Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth), is a light, satisfying epic with quite lofty ambitions. It contains an intriguing premise, impressive (as well as occasionally striking) battle scenes and a first-rate cast containing some of the most recognized and well-regarded faces of today's young Hollywood.

This stately facade, however, is merely used as a means to disguise a rather clichéd, predictable and often far-fetched piece of blatant Oscar-bait.

It is not a bad film; it is merely a rather simple story told on a scale so grand that it promises much more than it ends up giving.

The movie, taking place in the late 1800s, tells the story of Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger), a young British soldier with seemingly infinite potential. One day he gets called off to fight in the Sudan and the reality of war is more than he can bear.

He resigns his post, hoping to retire to a normal civilian life with his beautiful fiancée, Ethne (Kate Hudson). Society, however, deems him a disgrace. He is presented with four white feathers symbolizing cowardice, the last of which is supplied by Ethne herself.

Harry's best friend Jack (American Beauty's Wes Bentley) refuses to accept the fact that his closest pal is a coward, and thus withholds his judgement until seeing proof of said allegations.

Later, feeling he has nothing left to lose, Harry embarks on a quest to seek out Jack and his former regiment which has recently come under attack by an army of desert-dwelling Muslim fanatics.

The film hopes to draw parallels between itself and classic desert epics of old (Lawrence of Arabia), but never once tries to break new ground. Its reliance on coincidence, along with its tendency to force the audience to suspend their disbelief, is both a testament to the laziness of the screenplay and a frustrating allusion to what had the potential to be a great film.

However, The Four Feathers does contain commendable performances by its three young leads.

Harry's guide Abou (Djimon Hounsou of Amistad ) gradually emerges as the real star of the picture. Though he's stuck playing an unfortunate stereotype as the knowledgeable, black sidekick, Hounsou brings a certain mix of intensity and genuine emotion that leaves his top-billed companion in the dust.

The weak love triangle between Harry, Ethne and Jack is hardly explored, while the addition of snooty, narrow-minded British officers further detracts from the film's credibility.

In the end, The Four Feathers is the most frustrating type of film – mediocre. It mixes elements of greatness, such as Kapur's sweeping battle scenes and breathtaking landscapes, with stereotypical characters and a rather unbelievable story in which Harry transforms from a man on a mission of redemption to a desert-dwelling Rambo in unconvincing Arabic attire.

The Four Feathers keeps your attention throughout, but the experience is ultimately a forgettable one.

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