Freedom. Country. Honor. Passion.
Good luck finding any of those themes in the jumbled latest version of "The Four Feathers."
Based on the novel by A. E. W. Mason and set in 1884, the film tells the epic story of Harry Faversham, a British officer who resigns from the military the day before his unit ships off to war.
Three of his friends and his fiancee each give him a white feather as a symbol of his cowardice. In the hopes of restoring his sullied reputation, Faversham travels to Africa and masquerades as an Arab in an attempt to protect his friends.
Since 1915, the story has been retold on film about seven times, with only three of those efforts making it to the big screen. The last version was a TV movie made in 1977, so you'd think director Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth") would have time and technology on his side. Sadly, he fumbles with two of the basic aspects of a good picture: skillful editing and a quality script.
The film jumps from one scene to the next with few transitions. Much of the movie's potential for grandeur is lost amid only a few sweeping wide-angle shots that are too brief for the audience to fully appreciate.
Moviegoers are left in the dark as well when it comes to understanding the characters in "The Four Feathers." Too little background information is provided for Faversham and his friends. Consequently, many of their actions are largely unjustified.
For lack of a more realistic storyline, events are often explained with the line, "God put you in my way."
Heath Ledger stars as Faversham and makes the transition from gallant young heartthrob to desperate fighter with surprising ease. What's hard to believe, however, is his character's sudden burning desire to join his friends at the war front.
Ledger looks as if he's about to wet his pants when he learns he is going to war and appears less than outraged when he receives the feathers. Yet, without so much as a backward glance, he is next seen straddling a camel atop the dunes of the Sudan.
Ledger's performance strengthens as the film progresses. He stands out in emotionally charged scenes, especially when his character risks torture and starvation to rescue a friend from a Sudanese prison.
Despite how convincingly Ledger portrays the character, the flawed script has Faversham looking more like a fool than a hero.
Djimon Hounsou ("Amistad" and "Gladiator") gives an outstanding performance as Abou Fatma, an African slave who inexplicably decides to protect Faversham throughout the film.
A burly, intimidating man who is initially preoccupied with bragging about how many people he has killed, Fatma repeatedly risks injury and imprisonment to save Faversham's life and is never repaid for the favor. Fatma justifies his actions predictably: "God put you in my way."
Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley ("American Beauty") round out the lead roles, giving noteworthy performances as Faversham's fiancee and his best friend, respectively.
But even the best efforts of the young and talented cast aren't enough to pull together all of the film's loose ends and won't make seeing it worth your time -- unless, of course, God happens to put a movie ticket in your way.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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