The Four Feathers

on September 20, 2002 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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A rousing remake of the 1939 classic, based on the novel by A.E.W. Mason, "The Four Feathers" is an old-fashioned but emotionally stirring adventure tale of the kind they rarely make anymore. Set in the late 19th century, when Great Britain ruled a quarter of the globe and fighting for Queen and Country was the ultimate sacrifice, "The Four Feathers" revolves around the beautiful, spirited Ethne (Kate Hudson) and the two friends, Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) and Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley), who love her. Ethne's engaged to Harry but when he decides he doesn't want to be a soldier anymore and resigns his commission, his friends and his fiancée send him four white feathers, signifying cowardice. Harry loses everything, including Ethne and his place in polite society. When his old unit is sent to the Sudan to fight the Muslims, Harry follows, not to engage in battle but to somehow prove his bravery.

Surprisingly, Indian director Shekhar Kapur ("Bandit Queen," "Elizabeth") doesn't alter "The Four Feathers" too much to reflect today's political correctness. He and his screenwriters can't fail to acknowledge British brutality, but they recognize that the core values of "The Four Feathers"--heroism, loyalty and friendship--are timeless and don't need to be updated. Kapur also realizes that depicting the carnage of war is part of what makes the drama work. In a marvelously shot battle scene, sure to be talked about, Kapur powerfully demonstrates why the staid British military was no match for the unconventional Arab desert fighters.

As the tragically conflicted Harry, Heath Ledger ("The Patriot") turns in a superb performance, as does Djimon Hounsou ("Amistad") as Abou, the independent-minded Arab tribesman who saves his life.

Admittedly, "The Four Feathers" doesn't quite match its penultimate battle scene for sheer cinematic brilliance but it's consistently intelligent and entertaining. Starring Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson. Directed by Shekhar Kapur. Written by Michel Shiffer and Hossein Amini. Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe, Robert D. Jaffe, Marty Katz and Paul Feldsher. A Paramount release. Adventure. Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disturbing images, violence and some sensuality. Running time: 128 min

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