Movie Review: Teen hearthrob. Glamorous battle. Revisionist history. Banal ending.





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Epic: A film that spans a vast journey, including many great challenges and usually woes that ultimately result in either the protagonist's gruesome death or personal growth. Example: Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca. After watching "The Four Feathers," I found it difficult to define it as an "epic."

"The Four Feathers" poses its viewers a quandary. The plot of the movie was interesting and stimulating. A young, conscientious British army officer, who has been bread from birth to lead the Queen's troops in glorious combat against heathen savages, begins to doubt his profession. Harry, the confused youth played by Australian Mel-Gibson-in-training Heath Ledger, decides to not follow his compatriots to battle against revolting Maudi troops in the Sudan desert at the turn of the 20th century. As a result of his decision his three best friends and his fiancÚ played by Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn's surgery-free daughter, send Harry four white feathers, signaling his cowardice. To free himself from the stigma of being a coward, Harry returns to the desert to fight alongside his compatriots.

The plot intrigues, but something seems missing. The film certainly has its moments. The first twenty minutes that took place in London are superb. A raging rugby match sets the tone for militaristic pomp and it sets the temporal stage for the period. The "square" waltz at a grand party was shot beautifully with a fixed aerial camera giving the viewer and aloof but all encompassing view deep into the characters that is later repeated symbolically in the movie's most climatic battle.

"The Four Feathers" also has its share of immense epic battles and rolling landscapes. Like many other epics, the battles are innovative and cleverly portrayed. Massive clumps of humanity, charging, roaring, and hacking one and another to oblivion are all present with that component of entertainment that Hollywood has used to desensitize violence. "Four Feathers" takes it a step further by integrating a visually stunning motif. Remember that square dance thing from early on- it's a clue.

The cinematography of the deserts is breathtaking. Rolling dunes morosely fading into the horizon create an air of a lonely and romantic lifelessness. The cascading, timeless and immovable dunes of the desert captivate one of the central themes of the movie that it takes a Herculean effort to alter past mistakes. Robert Richardson did a fantastic job of creating visually stunning sceneries that beautiful capture some of the most important themes of the movie. But something is still missing.

Courtesy/Miramax
Abou (Djimon Hounsou) is forced into revealing his 'game.'

The cast of young actors do a surprisingly good job. Heath Ledger is able to portray the questing, sole searching hero. Emotionally he veers from joy to hopeless despair. Wes Bentley also gives a good performance as Durrance, Harry's overly ambitious, brooding best friend. Finally Kate Hudson is fantastic as Harry's fiancÚ Ethne. Expanding on the typical role of the heroine, Hudson ably creates a character that is a principle vehicle of plot development. Hudson was fantastic at balancing the thin line of emotional credibility. Acting aside, there is still something wrong with this film.

As the credits begin to roll, it begins to dawn on the viewer that the central problem with "The Four Feathers" is the movie's horrendous ending. This should come as a complete shock given that Bollywood legend Shekhar Kapur directed the film. American audiences will remember his most recent work, Academy nominated "Elizabeth." But this movie's resolution seems fake and contrived. Harry's fate should be what Ledger described as a possible alternate ending, "he should have gone back to the desert, say fuck out and go back." This ending would have been more fitting and more satisfying. It's too bad that Kapur copped out and went for a more crowd pleasing finale.

Epic: Great story, fantastic cinematography and decent acting. Failed movie: heinous ending. Blaming only the ending might seem trite, however that's the last thing you take home from the film and it's the thing that's going to gnaw at you the longest. Gnaw: eat, an uncomfortable feeling.

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