With epic battle scenes, a sad depiction of a love story and the sense that loyalty is worth more than faith, director Shekhar Kapur’s “The Four Feathers” is the latest adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s classic novel that starts out with a game of rugby at an elite military academy. Things get more intense when Harry Faversham’s (Heath Ledger) regiment is ordered to battle in the Sudan.
“The Four Feathers” tells the story of Harry, a young British soldier in 1875, who finds himself forced into the army by pressure from his father, who is a general. Harry is well-liked by his comrades and has a wonderful bride-to be, Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson). But, when his regiment is sent to active duty in North Africa following an attack by Sudanese rebels, Harry is overcome by fear and resigns his commission.
His friends and family are shocked and he is given white feathers, a symbol of cowardice, by three of his friends and Ethne. However, when his close friend Lt. Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley, “American Beauty”) and his former regiment have fallen under brutal attack, Harry decides to redeem himself.
Disowned by his father, renounced by his fianc√©e and disgraced in society, Harry ships out to the Sudan on his own, disguises himself as an Arab and travels through the desert, following his former regiment to be their guardian angel. He is found and helped by the noble Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou, “Amistad”), a desert warrior who selflessly devotes himself to helping and protecting the Englishman.
The epic battle scenes, including the one where the British Army forms a square and guns down waves of horsemen, are well staged and thrilling. Harry is the hero, if we can distract ourselves from the complete impossibility of his actions; any man naive enough to think he could resign his commission the night before battle and not be considered a coward is definitely a fool.
The problem with “The Four Feathers” is that the characters are ineffective, the coincidences obvious and the movie is completely innocent of any doubts about the way in which this Englishman can make it through the deserts and hardships of getting by the native peoples of the Sudan without being caught and brought to death as a spy.
Besides the unrealistic twists of fate this movie plays off of, the love triangle between Harry, Ethne and Jack seems very similar to the love drama played out between Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale in the movie “Pearl Harbor.” It was hard to feel the chemistry between any of the characters; love must have been an emotion none of these actors learned in acting school. As far as their roles as Brits, the three actors seem to have been playing dress-up the whole way through.
There are also problems with the faithful Abou Fatma. This devoted man who found it in himself to save Harry and guide him through the desert should have been touted as a hero as well and not just as the trusty sidekick. As the movie goes on and this man finds himself in obstacles that he wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Harry’s quest, you start asking yourself, “what’s in it for Abou?”
The positive qualities of the movie must not be dismissed. It looks good with the synchronized movement of the Brits in red, it moves quickly as the horses run through the desert and leave the dust in the wind and it is often a good time as you watch the rugby games being played by half-witted Army men who are more concerned with their image than asking the question: “what is this war for the Queen all about, anyway?”