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Editing destroys remake

By Lady Liberty
web posted April 18, 2005

The Four Feathers

* 1/2 out of ****

The Four FeathersThe only new movie opening this weekend in my part of the world was the remake of The Amityville Horror. That, of course, explains why I'm writing a review of an older movie I saw on DVD this week.

I remember the advertisements for The Four Feathers when it was released in 2002. I was somewhat interested at the time, but other movies took precedence. When The Four Feathers proved to do less than stellar business at the box office, the movie left the theatres before I had a chance to see it. But this weekend, I found it in the bargain bin at my local Wal Mart and, for the price of a matinée movie ticket, picked up a copy on DVD. I'm sorry to say that I now know firsthand the reason it didn't sell more tickets when it was in theatrical release.

The Four Feathers is based on an 1898 novel of the same name. The 2002 movie is actually the fourth incarnation of the story on the silver screen. I've not seen any of the previous versions (which include a made-for-TV movie in the 1970s), but took note of the fact that modern critics didn't seem to be terribly impressed by the 1939 version, either, and which is example most seem to cite. Given the storyline as I know it, I can see why movie makers have been interested in adapting the book for the theatre. It seems to me, however, that none of them have yet managed to do so successfully.

In the Great Britain of 1884, society is at the height of the Victorian era. Honor and the perception of honor are everything. So when Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger) resigns his officer's commission in Her Majesty's Army on the eve of war, three of his friends promptly conspire to send him a package of white feathers to symbolize his cowardice. His beautiful finacée, Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson), gives him the fourth feather herself, and his father — a ranking officer in the military himself — disowns him. It doesn't take long for Harry to realize that, in trying to save his own life, he's effectively thrown away everything that's made his life worth living.

Harry's former regiment, which includes his best friend Captain Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley), is sent to fight in the Sudan on schedule. Harry is left behind with only his his regrets for company. In a sudden burst of clarity, Harry decides he must redeem himself, and so he follows the Army to Africa. Of course, he tells no one what he's doing, and despite Ethne's own recently discovered regrets, Harry has now effectively disappeared.

Though Jack loves Harry, he's also long loved Ethne. Harry's disappearance presents him with a rare opportunity to pursue his own courtship. Harry, meanwhile, is having some trouble getting to the Army's encampment. In fact, he almost dies before he's rescued by a Sudanese man by the name of Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou). Fatma, for reasons never really explained in the film, takes it upon himself to keep an eye on Harry and do what he can to help him fulfill his self-set mandate. But he has his work cut out for him when Harry foolishly throws all caution to the wind as, one at a time, he endeavors to return the feathers to the men who sent them.

Heath Ledger is okay in the movie, though Wes Bentley easily outshines him. Kate Hudson is ridiculously miscast. Her English accent goes away and then comes back (though it's attrocious even when it's there), and she never appears as more than a reluctant presence. In reality, the only actor who truly comes off well in this version of The Four Feathers is Djiimon Hounsou. As the stoic and proud Sudanese, he manages to instill real gravitas and tremendous strength into his character despite a dull script.

The cinematography, meanwhile, is spectacular as are the costumes and the sets. The direction could have been better in any number of instances, but it's the hamhanded editing which largely destroys much of what could have been perfectly adequate. There are disjointed separations between scenes; I suspect a good deal was cut from the film since some of the connections between events are tenuous or missing all together. Even as much as was apparently cut, however, the movie seemed to go on far too long. In fact, the friend with whom I saw the movie called it "the movie that never ends." I just thought it was much too long. But when I checked the time on the DVD package, the running time was given as just over two hours! The fact we both felt it was far longer probably isn't a good recommendation for any movie...

POLITICAL NOTES: There are a few instances of hubris on the part of British authorities that will ring appallingly true despite being trite almost beyond belief. But the lines are especially appropos as some of the Western world finds itself once again engaged in battles with populations that are mostly Muslim. That the movie depicted both sets of warriors praying before battle clearly indicated that both sides felt that God was with them and against the other. This rather nicely sums up the underlying rationales for wars based largely on religious differences. This was true some hundreds of years ago during the Crusades; it was true in 1884; and there's an unquestionable parallel today in the Middle East.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Four Feathers is rated PG-13 for "intense battle sequences, disturbing images, violence and some sensuality." Although the violence isn't overly graphic, the entire storyline is mature enough that I couldn't recommend the film for those under the age of 14 or so. And in all honesty, if you're looking for more than to see a beautifully rendered period piece, I'm not so sure I could recommend The Four Feathers to anyone over the age of 14, either...

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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