"Yawn". That was a noise heard often during Shekhar Kapur's quite pointless adaptation of the classic novel "The Four Feathers". No, the film wasn't particularly slow. No, nobody was whining "Another one? But I thought they got it right the first time". No, the reason Kapur's "The Four Feathers" fails to excite is because it tries too hard. Action packed? Sure. Epic? Not quite. Kapur has taken so many liberties and twisted this tale around so much to appeal to the younger demographic that he has lost the only audience he has (as I cannot see how many teens would actually want to go see this kind of film). This latest rendition of "The Four Feathers" turns a story with a soul to a nuts-and-bolts exercise in testing the audience's patience.
Heath Ledger takes his turn as Harry Faversham, a young English officer who is an excellent fighter, an expert rugby player, and damned if he isn't good at just about everything (hey, at some point you just have to accept that it's a movie). And of course, since everyone loves him, and since he has the one girl that everyone in the entire country seems to love, Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson. Yes, Kate Hudson), he is sent off to war. He resigns from the army and stays nice and cozy at home with his lover, while many of his friends, including Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley), who he has known since childhood, go off to fight the "savages" somewhere in the desert. Soon later, however, Harry receives the ultimate "Kick Me" sign: he is mailed four feathers representing cowardice. Neither Harry nor Ethne can believe it, and Harry makes it his mission to prove to his friends that he is no wimp. He sets off for the desert to start his journey, which involves blending in with the Arab world, crossing vast expanses of sand dunes, re-gaining his honor, etc. The whole time he will be aided by a native, Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), who claims that Harry was put in his way by God. Let the fun begin.
Let's not kid ourselves here; this "Four Feathers" was horribly cast. If I am in a particularly mean mood, I might go as far to say that it was a joke to cast the actors they did to play these roles It seems that the hardest thing for any director or any group of actors to pull off successfully these days is a period piece, and it is clear that neither Ledger, Bentley, or Hudson have matured to a point where they can make us forget that they're closer to the Brat Pack than any classic actors of old. The only inspired performance in the entire film is from Djimon Hounsou, who has more poise, regality, and fierce passion than anyone in the cast can claim to possess. He owns every scene he's in, and even when he is merely glancing off camera, he does more than everyone else trying their darndest.
"The Four Feathers" treads on the very fine line between suspension of disbelief and plain phoniness. I'm not sure at what point I stopped cutting the film slack and realized how blatantly obvious it was that no one did their homework. From the costumes to the action choreography; everything felt so out of place and, to put it simply, just so wrong. The main wart in the film's side, however, is the screenplay. Maybe the writers had this cast in mind when sitting down to adapt the story; for the dialogue is certainly appropriate for actors of such little experience. This turns one too many pivotal scenes into real groaners. You know the film has hit a bad spot when English royals speak like the American teens that the film does it's best (or it's worst, depending on how you look at it), to appeal to. However, in a period piece like this, one can't cut corners. There's a certain obligation a director has to make sure that when one attempts a film like this, they have to do everything they can to get it right, or no one will buy it. I certainly didn't.
Now, to the action. Is everybody up for some action? Anyone... anyone? That's what I thought. The problem with all the fighting and battling here has nothing to do with size, and everything to do with the fact that it is all too distant. For an epic to succeed, we have to feel like what is going on is happening right here, right now. Films such as "Lawrence of Arabia" succeeded because they were so gloriously and exhilaratingly in the moment. This sense of urgency is gone from "The Four Feathers"; which with its "stylized" (read: bleached out) camerawork, "sweeping" (read: generic) score, and simply because it falls into every ignorant trap a wannabe epic always does, never gets more exciting than a poorly written history textbook.
"The Four Feathers" desperately wants to thrill. And not just anyone actually interested in the story; it wants everyone to love it, from teens to seniors. But as much as it tries and tries and tries, audiences will be more occupied with what they plan to have for dinner after the movie. But to whom is this a surprise? There are very few films of this size that hit the spot; that deserve the title of "epic". For ones that miss, such as this one? Well, here's one more washed-over bore to move to the back of the shelf.