The Four Feathers Reviews
As inspired as the film is, it does have a few notably lazy areas, with one of the least of its concerns being a high degree of conventionalism which could have been transcended, and is in a few aspects, but not enough obscure the predictability of a trope-heavy and, well, inconsistent path. Everyone criticizes the film's uneven thematic focus, at least when it comes to a viewpoint on cowardice in the face of an ultimately superfluous danger, but a much bigger issue is inconsistencies to narrative focus, whether it be unevenly exploring the individual leads of this ensemble drama, or jarring from each one of the episodic segments. Exploring a juicy romantic triangle, a brutal war, an adventure towards redemption, and other intriguing affairs and themes, this film takes on epic and layered subject matter, and juggles it a little spottily, being both too draggy in certain spots, and too short to really flesh out the flow in its progression, resulting in a disjointed pace that begets a disjointed narrative. As big an issue as anything in the final product, the uneven plotting reflects a narrative bloating that is further reflected in the melodramatics, not in (Okay... here goes) Mark Pellington's, Bruce Joel Rubin's, Greg Brooker's (*Breathe*), Michael Schiffer's, Risa Bramon Garcia's and Hossein Amini's (Whew) script, but in A.E.W. Mason's original story, which is often driven by manufactured and improbable motivations and happenings that could have been sold if the final product had the control to match its ambition. I've complained about the laziness of the film, but when sentimentality is overblown for theatrical contrivances over genuine tension and drama, ambition really starts to draw your attention to the shortcomings, which includes a laziness in a sense of sweep, for although the scope and depth of this film are adequate, there's something undercooked about the many angles of Mason's classic melodrama. Entertaining and compelling, the film doesn't boast the excitement that it could have taken to a strong, maybe even outstanding point, and under the weight of its predictability, inconsistencies and melodramatics, it is secured shy of what it could have been. Regardless, the final product rewards more thoroughly than many say, because for every misstep, there is inspiration to craft a compelling and, of course, beautiful flick.
The great James Horner approaches this project with his trademark emotive sweep to make the sentimental moments all the sappier, but his score remains outstanding in its range, with hauntingly tender minimalist touches and symphonic touches which encompass anything from tension to realized emotional heights that help in defining the soul of the film, as surely as it defines the epic's aesthetic value. The also great Robert Richardson does further justice to the artistic integrity of this drama, with cinematography whose rugged coloration is gotten used to after a while, but whose stunning lighting and grand scope immerse you into a versatile world that Zack Grobler's, Keith Pain's and the assisting Rachid Quiat's art direction builds lavishly, with the help of Allan Cameron's intricate production designs and Ruth Myers' lovely costume designs. The film is beautiful, there's no denying that, even among those who criticize the substance that accompanies this epic's drama, for the aesthetic aspects of this film do a more consistent job than the storytelling at doing justice to A.E.W. Mason's vision, of an epic which encompasses elements of war in all of its horror, social conflicts, romantic melodrama, and all sorts of other juicy themes within a sweeping scope. There is a lot of intrigue within this story to do justice, and injustice, and the screenwriting team of (Here we go again) Mark Pellington, Bruce Joel Rubin, Greg Brooker, Michael Schiffer (Boo-hoo! Does it ever end?), Risa Bramon Garcia and Hossein Amini do both, formulaically and very, very unevenly exploring Mason's narrative, but still holding your attention with wit, as well as some humor to help humanize the characters, whose other layers are well-drawn enough to make this a compelling ensemble piece even on paper. Not all of the characters are given as much attention as they probably should be given, but they all endear, and that's largely because the acting is so strong, particularly within such supporting talents as the charismatic Djimon Honsou, and Wes Bentley as an honorable military man who finds great personal challenges on and off of the battlefield, and within Heath Ledger, who captures his good-hearted character's transformation from a coward fearing a needless demise, to an adventurer seeking redemption and salvation for himself and his peers. There are a lot of people to drive the dramatic resonance of this undercooked epic, but where the engagement value most thrives is within Shekhar Kapur's direction, whose tight scene structuring unexpectedly sustains a consistent entertainment value, punctuated by grand, if near-bloodless scenes of battle, and by inspired moments in thoughtful dramatic storytelling which transcend, if not utilize the sentimentality to engross, if not provide the occasional glimpse into a stronger film. With more nuance, consistency and sweep, this film could have gone far, but for all of its shortcomings, its heart pumps enough blood into this epic for it to consistently compel.
In conclusion, the familiarity and gross unevenness to the telling of this worthy tale whose melodramatics are exacerbated by sentimentality, and whose scope is betrayed by other superficialities which betray a potential for considerable strength that could have been fulfilled through the beautiful score work, cinematography and art direction, nuanced writing and acting, and colorful, when not engrossing direction which secure Shekhar Kapur's "The Four Feathers" as an entertaining and fairly rewarding interpretation of A.E.W. Mason's classic epic story.
3/5 - Good
Ledger does his best with the material as Harry Feversham, the general's son who resigns on the eve of a battle in the Sudan. His three comrades each send him a white feather, a symbol for cowardice. The fourth is delivered by his fiancee Ethne (Kate Hudson). Talk about a kick in the nads.
From there Harry spends the rest of the movie posing as an Arab and trying to rescue his friends to prove his mettle. It could have been a nice adventure, and it is at times, with brilliantly poetic cinematography from the great Robert Richardson (JFK), who portrays these scenes like beautiful paintings. But then Kapur bogs down the visual awe with stilted profundity.
Then there's the romance angle. Harry's fried Jack (Wes Bentley) does all he can to steal away Ethne, and its a triangle that zaps the film of much needed energy. An to hear Hudson put on a Brit accent defines cringe-inducing, and tat's not even mentioning the character who opens his eyes to the horrors of war after he's blinded. Ugh.