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IN SHORT: An Epic long on looks, short on character development . [Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disturbing images, violence and some sensuality. 120 minutes]
An Epic film, by definition of the genre, is one that covers great distances of time and (usually georagphical) space. They are marked by spectacular scenery and cinematography and are usually driven by a major love story of one kind or another. They also tend to blast past the three hour mark without breaking a sweat. We are thankful', then, to director Shekhar Kapur for packing all that is expected into a two hour span. Kapur delivers a film that has all the sweep of Lawrence of Arabia, all the feel of an adaptaton of one of those 1000 page doorstop books and is, unfortunately, in such a hurry to get to the "epic" that he leaves character background and development in the dust.
That decision to get right to the epic and short change us on the inter-relationships of the three friends who are at the center of this story means we didn't get a chance to bond, if you will, with any of the characters. Without that bonding, we didn't give a hoot for anything that befalls any of 'em. Still, the adaptation is clean, coherent and easy to follow
The setting is the late 19th Century, when the British still control three quarters of the World and military service is de rigeur for upper class gentlemen. The Four Feathers recreates upper-class Brit culture of more than a century ago. Filled with attitudes of an Empire long gone, certain details feel like they haven't made clearly the crossing. We begin at (what we think is) a military ball. There, we meet lifelong friends Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger) and Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) and watch the flirtations both enjoy with the lovely Ethne (Kate Hudson), just prior to the announcement of the lady's engagement to Harry. When word comes of a military battle in the Sudan -- the enemy is an Arab force called the Mahdi -- it's hip-hip-huzaah and off to war for our officers and their friends. This happens so quickly that Cranky and, all the critic pals sitting alongside us started thinking the same two-guys-one-woman thing. We all let out what can only be described as a mutter of "well, he's dead..."
But, no, Jack does not kill Harry for Ethne's hand. The Four Feathers is much more creative than that. While all the men happily pack off for war, Harry begs out of duty and resigns his commission. Disinherited by his father, a general, Harry receives a package containing the calling cards of his three officer friends, and four white feathers. The white feather, as we learn in pre-credit titles, is an accusation of cowardice. An ultimate diss from one noble to another. The fourth feather is from Ethne, who is so appalled by her intended's actions that she breaks off the engagement.
When word comes of a massive military engagement with heavy casualties, Harry grows a pair and ships off to the Sudan, as a civilian. This branded coward will fight for his name and the well-being of his friends. That is, if his inexperience doesn't get him killed first. He should thank his lucky stars for the random intervention of Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), a native who finds poor Harry in the desert. Once this pair finds Harry's friends and the battle that surrounds them, well, war is hell. Scarred by battle, certain gentlemen return to England and the care of our lovely lady, there to kick the chick flick end of the story into overdrive.
It wasn't until after our screening of The Four Feathers that we realized that the adaptation makes no effort to delineate the amount of time that passes during the story, cheating us of another of those "epic elements". The way the film is put together, you would think that our gentlemen soldiers hop a plane off to war, rather than the arduous journey across land and sea that would be reality.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Four Feathers, he would have paid . . .
If you've read the book, no problem. We don't take that angle, never have. You shouldn't have to read the book to understand the movie. You don't have to read the book to understand The Four Feathers, but we didn't really care about much beyond the phenomenal scenery and cinematography of such. All the character background which we miss is on the printed page. Leaving it there is a problem we see time and time again with adaptations.
Dateflick rating. The Four Feathers won't generate the tears that a chick flick would but it's an easy sit.
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