Since 1908 when A.E.W Mason first published his novel, “The Four Feathers,” it has been the inspiration for numerous films and directors that changed enough of the novel they didn’t have to give Mason credit.
And what does Hollywood like more than money and sequels? That is right, remakes. So here is yet another remake, more like the 1939 “Four Feathers” than any of the others, starring Heath Ledger (“The Knights Tale”), Kate Hudson (“Almost Famous”) and Wes Bentley (“American Beauty”).
The story begins like a grand epic would, with chivalry and camaraderie being the focus of young soldiers’ lives. This story was written about a time when honor, courage, gallantry and stubborn pride were more important than life. In the script a young soldier (Ledger) receives the four white feathers of cowardice for resigning from the British Army. He takes it upon himself to forge the Sudan in search of his fighting comrades.
Three other friends of his, other soldiers, and his fianc/ (Hudson) give him the four white feathers, insulting him and driving him into solitude. But when he hears the dangers his best friend (Bentley) is facing in battle, he goes on his own to save him. In unbearable conditions, he manages to get close to the British Army and, undetected, he starts to help them from the sidelines of battle.
He secretly saves the lives of those who called him a coward and as a disguised Arab, faces horrible atrocities along the way. This story moves from romantic (romantic in an old English definition, not the mushy modern definition) epic to fantastic journey and then teeters on the “Pearl Harbor” catastrophe of a Jerry Springer-style love triangle. But in bouncing around from each genre it never actually hits rock bottom.
This film held so much potential, much in the style of “Lawrence of Arabia,” but the filmmakers seemed terrified to commit to it. There was a brief and shiny moment when I thought this was an A movie and was going to finally take the chance of becoming a classic epic, but then it just as quickly went back to its monotonous drag through the African desert.
The performances were good, Heath Ledger doing the best, but not what they could have been. I will not say anything bad about Ledger’s performance, but Bentley could not pull off an older war veteran, even with that tiny mustache he attempted to grow. And although I personally fell in love with Kate Hudson in “Almost Famous,” she did not deliver in this particular picture. The only other performance, besides Ledger, that is notable is that of Djimon Hounsou (“Amistad”).
My opinion of this film changed quickly. At one point I wanted to give it an A, but that grade was obviously determined too early, for it soon became an A-, B+, then a B and the a B-. I am so tempted to give it even a C+ for its horribly disappointing ending, but I cannot do that to a film that has good performance from Hounsou and Ledger and had epic potential. So it remains, B – .
More Suggestions with Heath Ledger; “The Patriot,” “A Knight’s Tale.” He also starred in “10 Things I Hate About You,” and in “Monster’s Ball,” but can hardly recommend either of those.
More with Wes Bentley; “The Claim,” “American Beauty.”
More with Kate Hudson; “200 Cigarettes,” “Almost Famous.”
And Do NOT miss Djimon Hounsou in his Golden Globe nominated performance in “Amistad.”