The Four Feathers (2002)

Freedom. Country. Honor. Passion. To save his best friend, one man must risk everything he loves.

The story, set in 1875, follows a British officer (Heath Ledger) who resigns his post when he learns of his regiment's plan to ship out to the Sudan for the conflict with the Mahdi. His friends and fiancée send him four white feathers which symbolize cowardice. To redeem his honor he disguises himself as an Arab and secretly saves the lives of those who branded him a coward.

***Brits fighting Sudanese rebels in 1884 with Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson***
Based on the novel by A.E.W. Mason, a greenhorn British regiment in 1884 is commissioned to Egyptian-ruled Sudan to fight Mahdi rebels. A young officer, Harry (Heath Ledger), unexpectedly resigns and is shamed as a coward by his three best friends (e.g. Wes Bentley) and fiancée (Kate Hudson). After the negative fallout he goes to Sudan undercover to hopefully redeem his honor.
"The Four Feathers" (2002) is similar to Victorian-Brits-fighting-in-Africa flicks like “Zulu” (1964) and “Khartoum” (1966), but I prefer this one as it’s just more compelling and is a quality modern production (I’ve never seen the old-fashioned 1939 version).
There are a lot of gems to mine here, like Harry’s individualism in the face of great social pressure to conform. His reasoning is simple: He never wanted to be a soldier and only took the commission to please his gung-ho militarist father. Besides, how is what’s happening in the Sudanese desert relevant to him and the British in the first place? Why should he risk dying or losing a limb for this dubious purpose? One of the best parts is Harry’s growing friendship with Sudanian Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou).
Unfortunately, the movie’s hampered by two problems: The mechanics of the plot sometimes drive the characters and it doesn’t feel natural or real. For instance, when Harry easily joins the Mahdi rebels and is later seen riding toward the British regiment it’s serious “Yeah, right” territory. Another problem is that, from the main battle forward the movie doesn’t allow itself to breath and seems like it’s in a rush, like it doesn’t have the confidence to slow down and tell the story because it’s worried about fitting into a 2-hour timeframe and pleasing those with ADHD.
If you can get past those two hitches, this is a worthy historical adventure flick.
The film runs 2 hours, 12 minutes and was shot in England and Morocco.
GRADE: C+/B-

Marty Katz Productions, Paramount, Miramax, Jaffilms Inc., Belhaven Limited, Dune Films by Shekhar Kapur, A.E.W. Mason, Michael Schiffer, Hossein Amini.
Stars: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Mohamed Bouich.

Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, War

Keywords: islam sex loyalty bravery british empire army revenge honor murder escape soldier battle church violence britain slave colonialism military imperialism

09/20/2002

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