Four Feathers

November, 2002, Drama

Directed by:J. Searle Dawley


This is an embarrassingly mediocre remake of the 1939 classic which starred Sir Ralph Richardson as John Clements, a disgraced British officer who receives white feathers from three fellow officers and his finance following his resignation from the army on the eve of his regiment's departure to the Sudan. (This version was, in turn, a remake of one made a decade earlier with King Kong's Fay Wray as the distraught fiancée.)  The 63 year-old version made wonderful use of it's British cast of character actors, and kept the action moving at a fast, if improbable, clip.

Alas, just about everything that could have been altered to make this latest, lavishly photographed version inferior has been accomplished. The casting alone qualifies as a disaster; it's lead by Heath Ledger, (a young Australian actor struggling to become the next Mel Gibson), Wes Bentley, (think young Omar Sharif without the gap in his teeth) and the pixyish but decidedly Southern California Kate Hudson. 

Director Shekhar Kapur, (Elizabeth) must have had a two movie deal with the people at Miramax; there can't be any other reason he was given control over this inexplicably episodic script, which begins it's many errors by carefully identifying our hero's three fellow officers and then goes on to virtually ignore two of them. 

The Clements character, (renamed Harry here) dutifully sets off for the Sudan to help his comrades, and gets befriended by a mysterious runaway slave, played with stoic majesty by Dkimon Hounsou, the charismatic rebellious slave in "Amistead". He keeps bailing Clements out of one jam after another in a series of set pieces so badly connected  it's hard to keep up with what's going on. 

It must be said in the director's defense that he gets the battle scenes done admirably, and the desert looks both vividly beautiful and constantly threatening. But the saccharine ending, coupled with a pervasive stereotyping of the Sudaneese makes this an annoying as well as boring two hours. 

Do yourself a favor; rent the original, and be especially charmed by C. Aubrey Smith as the gregarious retired army general who establishes the plot. A great oldie gets mauled here.    


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