The Four Feathers

This 6th film adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's turn-of-the century historic novel, The Four Feathers begins in 1875, a decade before the fall of Khartoum to Sudanese warriors, led by Muhammad Ahmed. In 1884 the Muslim religious leader, (the Mahdi), commandeered the Sudanese Arabs in a bloody revolt against British colonial rule. The British troops, headed by General Charles Gordon, were posted there to squash the rebellion, but instead were annihilated by the enemy.

This story opens with Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger), a young British soldier with a bright future and an adoring fiancé Ethne (an ineffectual Kate Hudson), who resigns his post o­n the eve of being shipped out to the Sudanese uprising. His fellow officer friends respond by giving him three feathers, the fourth donated by the capricious Ethne, denoting their disgust at his cowardice. Harry then stows away to the Sudan disguised as a local Arab, to save his captive friends, and demonstrate his real courage. While crossing the desert, he forms an unlikely alliance with rebel warrior Abou (the credible Djimon Hounsou), who becomes our hero's guide and rescuer.

The Four Feathers downfall lies in its confusing scrambling of different genres: Lawrence of Arabia meets The Man Who Would Be King. Within the all-encompassing epic proportions of the picture, so much is attempted (adventure/romance/war) that the passage of time gets compressed to the disadvantage of audience comprehension. Another hour would have resolved that. What garners accolades for The Four Feathers is its stunning production values: breathtaking cinematography (note the battle sequences) from Oscar-winner Robert Richardson, lush set and costume design, notable sound and musical design (James Horner). Sadly, for all its grand panoramic visuals, appropos casting of hero and rival (Heath Ledger and Wes Bentley), led by successful Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur, The Four Feathers doesn't manage to deliver (on all counts) the sweeping epic proportions it alludes to.

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