Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 130 Minutes
Release Date: February 18, 2003

“When something like this happens, you’re lost. Unless I do something, this is how people will remember me. A feather. And others will think I’m a coward. All I know is I can’t live with myself.”

Film ***1/2

The Four Feathers, to my surprise, has been adapted to film not once, not twice, but six times now. Perhaps the most accepted version to date has been the 1939 film version which starred John Clements and Ralph Richardson. Hopefully, the new, beautifully mounted version of A.E.W. Mason’s classic novel will gain an equal share of acclaim by audiences seeking that of a lush, sweeping adventure epic. The feel I got from this movie was similar to that of David Lean’s timeless Lawrence of Arabia. Add to this a strong performance from its lead actor, and you’ve got a top notch piece of cinematic beauty that was made for the big screen and nothing less. The story also happens to contain an astonishing element of self redemption that the lead character goes through, which is nothing short of incredible.

The year is 1884, and the British Empire is the most stable army and more eager to go to war than any regiment. The British are also credited as being the top force in the world to administer colonization. They soon receive orders to intercept an uprising army in The Sudan who has attacked a British colonized area. The young soldiers are all more than enthusiastic about shipping off to fight for their country, all except Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger). Harry, at the surprise of fellow soldier and long time friend Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) opposes to very idea of going off to what he labels a god forsaken desert to possibly die. Harry would much rather enjoy a life of peace and tranquility with his fiancée, Ethne (Kate Hudson).

Horrified by the news that his regiment will be going to war, Harry decides to immediately resign his commission. He confesses to Ethne that he never really wanted to join the army in the first place, but he did anyway in order to earn respect from his father, a renowned British general. Harry is soon branded a coward by his friends and even his fiancée, who deliver their disgrace for him by way of the white feather of cowardice. He receives a total of four feathers, and he soon realizes that he made a grand mistake. Even his father wants nothing to do with him.

What then follows and begins for Harry is a journey of self redemption that will lead him to The Sudan, but not as a British soldier, but as a loner going undercover as an Arab, risking his life to aid his fellow friends and soldiers who may become trapped behind enemy lines. Along the way, he befriends the brave and noble Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou) who trusts the stranger enough to help him do what he has to do to redeem himself.

Although The Four Feathers isn’t entirely a war movie, it does contain one of the most incredibly shot and executed battle sequences I’ve seen in any movie. I could only imagine what it must have been like to get this sequence done right, because the end result is nothing short of amazing. The British, having thought to eliminate all incoming enemies on horse, realize they have been set up. They then form a square, and prepare for a gargantuan sized attack, with enemies approaching from all four sides. One particular shot, which captures the square of soldiers and all incoming forces, is truly a magnificent sight for the eyes.

Say what you will about Heath Ledger (just about every girl I know will never cease to discuss how “ridiculously good-looking” he is), but he is simply one strong actor, and The Four Feathers is vital proof. He was fortunate to get a good warm up with his roles in The Patriot and A Knight’s Tale, but his performance here is perhaps his most demanding yet, and you buy into his character’s transformation midway through the movie. Ledger proves here that he is a strong actor underneath his image. Wes Bentley is in fine form here as well, mastering his accent so well that I occasionally forgot that he was an American. I can’t necessarily say the same for the beautiful Ms. Hudson, who although top billed doesn’t have many scenes. Her performance is the lone flaw in the movie, as her accent is completely overdone and her scenes are so limited.

The Four Feathers is a masterfully done adventure and in the true tradition of epic filmmaking. Credit must go the way of director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and the brilliant cinematographer Robert Richardson, who also worked on such films as JFK, Casino and Snow Falling on Cedars. Mr. Richardson’s unique style for me epitomizes the beauty of cinema, and I can’t wait to see another film under his one of a kind vision. This is truly one of the most sweeping movies of this past year.

Video ****

Paramount has delivered what I believe to be one of their most stunning presentations to date. The anamorphic picture enhances this panoramic adventure to an even grander extent. The desert scenes are particularly of superb and lush quality, while the earlier scenes in England are of equal visual splendor. Colors are a splendid feat, appearing in a grand naturalness, and the level of detail is simply awe-inspiring. This presentation is truly one of the best of the year so far, and confirms the top quality work of Mr. Richardson’s stunning cinematography.

Audio ****

For all its sweeping qualities, The Four Feathers is given an extra boost in its sound quality, thanks to a power-packed 5.1 soundtrack. Everything is in the right place here, in terms of dialogue clarity, James Horner’s magnificent score, and the battle scenes epitomize pure dynamic range, making this a larger than life cinematic experience right in your own living room. A stunning piece of work.

Features ***1/2

I have to commend Paramount on this area. This movie cost a lot of money to make, and unfortunately didn’t rake in as much as expected. In the midst of this, they managed to deliver a more than welcome addition to their Special Collector’s Edition label. Give yourself a pat on the back, Paramount, because you did the absolute right thing!

Featured on this disc is a feature commentary from director Shekhar Kapur, a well structured featurette titled “A Journey From Within”, and 7 additional featurettes, “The Sounds of the East and the West”, “The Battle of Abou Clea”, “The Mystery in the Desert”, “A Historical Perspective”, “The Friendship of Abou Fatma”, “A Journey of Self Discovery”, and “Surviving the Prison”.

Also included is a trailer for the movie (and a darn good one at that), as well as a trailer for the upcoming theatrical release, The Core.


The Four Feathers is a thoroughly rousing and engaging epic of a movie that manages to sweep the viewer in the midst of a heinously fierce battle, as well as a unique journey of self discovery, highlighted by a strong performance from Heath Ledger.