A review of “The Four Feathers” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 (but should be R) for extensive violence and adult situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

 

 

Few people recall the compelling 1939 version of “The Four Feathers” starring John Clements and Ralph Richardson.  That’s a good thing, as the modern-day version suffers by comparison.

Rhythm problems punctuate this battle-scarred romantic epic.  Heath Ledger (yum) is Harry Faversham, a general’s son for whom a British Army commission is a fait-accompli.  Harry is engaged to Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson), the ethereal girl-next-door.  When an army of Sudanese rebels attacks a colonial British fortress in Khartoum, Harry’s regiment is posted to North Africa for some real-life combat.  Overwhelmed by doubt, Harry succumbs to cowardice and resigns his commission.  Ethne is horrified at Harry’s loss of dignity, as are three of Harry’s closest colleagues who cannot condone his actions. Their cruel condemnation is relayed by the abrupt delivery of four white feathers – the feathers of cowardice.

Needless to say, Harry’s best friend Lt. Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) stands by his man.  He knows (in his heart) that Harry is not a coward.  Deep in the Sudan, Jack commands the English troops with something akin to valor, and finds himself a national hero.  At the same time, Harry sets out for darkest Africa to prove that he himself is a hero, and more of a man than his downy white shame suggests.

Harry’s actions in the Sudan are puzzling, less heroic than they are foolish. He lies low, masking his identity until the optimum moment to prove himself a champion.  Transcending uncertainty by rushing out to save the cavalry, Harry’s mission seems abnormally focused on the physical and emotional liberation of the original quartet of feather senders.  Pass the bitter pills of salvation!

Heroic redemption, undying loyalty, and indomitable spirit are all accounted for, from the battlefield to the prosperous drawing rooms of English aristocracy. The battle scenes are beautifully wrought, and horribly, sickeningly graphic. (This is an R-rating that managed to fly under the MPAA sex-and-language radar). One can’t help but be impressed with the look of the film, which is lush and grand in scope.  The pacing, however, is desperately uneven.

Hudson, Bentley and Ledger don’t generate enough electricity to light up the first two acts, but they manage rev it up in the home stretch.  Watching Ledger mount his thundering steed at reckless speed (without a stunt double) is worth the price of admission.