An oft-remade film that tells a story of heroism and cowardice.

The plot centers around Harry Faversham, a young British military officer who, lacking the stomach for war, resigns his commission the night before his unit is to be shipped out to battle in the Sudan in 1898. Disappointed, each of his three closest friends and fellow officers present him with a white feather as a symbol of his cowardice. His fiance, upon learning of his decision, also presents him with a feather before breaking off the engagement. Shamed by his own actions, Harry embarks for the Sudan on his own, and, disguised as a mute Sudanese tribesman, sneaks behind enemy lines and attempts to rescue each of his captured friends and thereby regain his honor.

Although versions were made before and after it, the seminal print of the story is British director Zoltan Korda's 1939 version. Filmed on location in the deserts of the Sudan, with thousands of extras (including Bisharin tribespeople-- Kipling's "Fuzzy Wuzzies"-- who had fought in the actual battle of Omdurman being recreated onscreen), Korda created epic action sequences that were, to audiences in 1939, the equivalent of the vivid combat scenes in Saving Private Ryan sixty years later. Korda's dusty and furious desert melees are used to this day as stock footage by directors looking to represent desert warfare in colonial Africa.

The Four Feathers wears its heart on its sleeve: Harry's initial misgivings about combat are given short-shrift, and his transformation from coward to hero is non-existent. But the movie, based on the 1901 novel by A.E.W. Mason, isn't about introspection. It's an action-adventure epic, and it plays like one, with furious battles and tense moments. It's visuals are so lush and its characters so one-dimensional that it stands as a classic example of what could be called "war porn"; the kind of movie that 10-year old boys go to see, and leave the theater with dreams of being Generals and fighting wars.

They don't make 'em like that anymore.

One snowy Saturday, as I was perusing the DVDs at Media Play, I came across "The Four Feathers." Ooo, I says to myself, this looks good. Look at all the pretty cover (hey, I'm a girl1). So I turn it over and read the back. Sounds decent enough.

Well thank god I didn't rent it with my own money. I kept looking at the status bar to see if it was anywhere near being done and I rarely do this. I like movies. I think they're neat. *insert cheesy grin* (Would you like a chocolate covered pretzel?) Now, now don't get me wrong, it had plenty of interesting action sequences, if by action sequence you mean the Royal Cumbrians getting slaughtered by Muslims and if by interesting you mean a lot of sand, then yes, it was interesting.

It also had its moments of romance, friendship, courage, blah blah blah. That pretty much sums it up; it was a blah blah blah movie. There was no art, no life lesson, as it were, no great acting, and no great writing (move over 3-D, we have now regressed back to one-dimensional characters).

Let's start with the fact that this movie has been done at least five times, twice as silent movies in 1921 and 1929, twice directed by Zoltan Korda in 1939 and 1945 (the latter titled "Storm Over the Nile"), and once as a 1977 TV movie starring Beau Bridges, Robert Pile and Jane Seymour2. Why does Shekhar Kapur feel the need to make yet another version of it? Does he think that somehow his version will be an improvement? *shakes head* I expected so much more of you, Shekhar! I loved "Elizabeth." Elizabeth...Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough...come on! Kapur was one of the main reasons I had for watching "The Four Feathers," which if based on its trailer is VERY misleading.

All right, moving on to the plot and miscellaneous objections to the movie:
Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) seems to have it all - the girl, the prestige, the best friend, the looks (too bad acting ability doesn't come with the package in this movie). Harry is in the Royal Cumbrians, which apparently is an elitist group of her majesty's royal army. His dad is a general. He has a best friend, Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley), who adores him (but also seems to be jealous of him in regards to his fiancee, played by Kate Hudson). After Harry's father announces Harry's engagement to Ethne Eustace (I'm sorry, but what the heck kind of a name is that?), there is a sudden announcement that Harry's regiment will be shipped off to Sudan within the week. Afeared...I mean, ascared, I mean dammit, he's afraid so Harry resigns his commission because he doesn't want to die. His three other compadres excluding his best friend send him a white feather each. A white feather, for all you not acquainted with 1800s British military symbolism, is the symbol of cowardice. Then Harry makes the mistake of telling the truth to his fiancee, who is too caught up in appearances to choose love over society. She then presents him with a white feather. By the way, where are these people getting these things? Is it like when you're born, you're presented with a quota of white feathers to give to people during your lifetime? I present thee, Harry, with my last lone feather. You shall be condemned to death with your decision to avoid death!

Determined he cannot live with the shame of dishonoring pretty much everyone around him, he goes to Sudan and disguises himself as an Arab to try to prove to everyone that he's not a coward by rescuing his friends secretly. Hehe, they won't recognize me with soot on my face and longer hair and a beard. If Superman can pull it off...Heath, you genius you. Has anyone seen Heath lately? He's still caucasian, right? So Harry almost dies five hundred times and every single one of those times, this guy named Abou Fatma (pronounced Abu, played by Djimon Hounsou, who was wonderful in Gladiator), who has it in his head that he has to protect Harry cause God put "him in his way", shows up and saves him. Towards the end of the movie, I didn't like Harry too much. He did pretty much NOTHING to show Abou his gratitude. It's ironic now that I think about it. The caucasian guy who was supposed to take Harry to Korti, where the British were stationed, was killed by a "black whore" because he kept insulting her in his broken French-English. He pointed to her and said, "You see, they do not understand gratitude or loyalty." Then the bastard gives her a shiny coin and says, "Now she will show gratitude." Then when he's asleep, she slams a rock on his head repeatedly. Go whore! The part where Abou rescues Harry the first time is oddly similar to a part in Gladiator, which Djimon also played in. *GASP*

When Heath finally does turn into an Arab (Pinocchio, you finally are a real boy!), he gets captured to fight for them. So he sends his black friend, Abou, to the British with news that the Muslims are coming. Yes, that was a smart move. What do the British do when Abou arrives? They tie him to a post and whip him. Guess who orders it? One of Harry's former friends. The first, actually, to turn on Harry. Muslims attack, British lose really bad. Another one of Harry's friends is killed because he has gone crazy from praying and killing. Then Jack is blinded. Harry suddenly has a surge of blood-lust and starts killing Muslims left and right in order to cover Jack. He takes him away only to find all the letters Ethne had been writing Jack. We don't find out what they say, but I imagine it's something along the lines of I love you, I want to be with you, all that mushy stuff. Feeling betrayed, Harry initially doesn't go over to help Jack as he sprawls around screaming, "I can't see!" More useless dialogue and cut scene to London where Jack is happily with Ethne and hey, surprise, he's asked her to marry him. But there's no Harry.

That's because he has it set in his mind that he's going to rescue his other amigo, who was taken alive to some Muslim prison. He wants Abou to help him get in jail, which doesn't really prove to be all that difficult. Just stand in front of the prison and make sure you're caucasion this time, Heath. In prison, he is starving, over-worked, under-bathed and now it looks like his friend is going to die. Talk about ungrateful. When it looks like all hope is lost, Abou shows up again. He's more realiable than Jesus! Along with bread, Abou gives Harry what looks to be poison, but it's not. It's actually just something that will make them appear to be dead (ala Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet"). They take it; they're buried; they're gone. The main guard goes after them and is killed after another blood-lust fest. Hallelujah, the black man is gone!.

The rest is pretty boring. Harry comes to visit Jack and Jack decides that he shall be noble and give Ethne back to Harry because that's who she really loves. Harry's father welcomes him back and Jack gives a sentimental (tear) speech about how men do not fight because of flags or countries, how it's about the man next to you.

I leave you with a review by Mr. Cranky3:
They should have titled this "Lawrence of Arabia Lite", because it's pretty clear that's what these amateur jerk-off filmmakers are shooting for. They expect us to believe that Heath Ledger could walk into the Sudan and pass for a native. I kept screaming out in the theater, "That's no Sudanese! It's Heath Ledger with some Underoos wrapped around his head!" but nobody else seemed to notice. Heath's character, Harry Faversham, ends up in the Sudan after quitting the British army because he's chicken. He's also about to get laid by Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson). I think if I had to choose between fighting a war in the desert and getting in Kate Hudson's pants, I'd choose the latter as well. Unfortunately, there's some stupid British code of honor dictating that it's better to go to war than to get into a hot babe's pants, and Harry is disgraced and given four feathers to symbolize his cowardice. Harry is left at home while his best friend, Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley), goes off to war.

Harry decides that he doesn't want to be seen as a coward, so he wanders off to the Sudan for who knows what reason. He's resigned his commission and doesn't speak a word of the native language, but seems to think he's just going to run into his buddies and do something heroic. Fortunately for Harry, he meets Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), who not only speaks English, but seems to want to protect Harry from harm. From then on, every time Harry is on the brink of death, Abou shows up and saves him like some kind of giant black tooth fairy.

Since director Shekhar Kapur needs a villain, he quietly turns Jack into one, which is rather annoying since Jack isn't the coward. Jack serves his country, gets injured, then when he tries to make a move on Ethne, suddenly he's the bad guy. Naturally, Harry saves all sorts of people and returns home after Jack and Ethne are engaged, which gives Jack an opportunity to perform that "I'm such a good guy, here's your girl back" routine because he knows that Ethne doesn't really love him.

It doesn't help matters that the woman these two morons are in love with has two expressions: the "look, it's a chipmunk" expression and the "look, somebody killed my chipmunk" expression. Though she manages to at least vacillate between the two, it's just another distraction in this sandy wasteland of a movie.

From imdb.com4:
Cast (in credits order) complete, awaiting verification
Heath Ledger .... Harry Faversham
Wes Bentley .... Lt. Jack Durrance
Kate Hudson .... Ethne Eustace
Djimon Hounsou .... Abou Fatma
Michael Sheen .... William Trench
Alek Wek .... Denka
Kris Marshall .... Castleton
Rupert Penry-Jones .... Thomas Willoughby
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Daniel Caltagirone .... Gustave James Cosmo
Christian Coulson .... Drummer boy
Lucy Gordon .... Isabelle
Hugo Hedley .... British Troop
Nick Holder .... British Lion
Alex Jennings .... Colonel Hamilton
Tim Pigott-Smith .... General Faversham
Hugh Ross (I) .... Regimental Priest
Laila Rouass .... Medicine Girl
Ben Uttley .... General Wolseley's Aide-de-Camp

Produced by
Laurie Borg .... co-producer
Paul Feldsher .... executive producer
Paul Feldsher .... producer
Julie Goldstein (II) .... executive producer
Robert Jaffe .... producer (as Robert D. Jaffe)
Stanley R. Jaffe .... producer
Marty Katz (I) .... producer
Allon Reich .... executive producer

Original Music by
James Horner

1not to say that all girls do is look at pretty covers and not to say that no boys look at pretty covers

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