The Four Feathers
**.8 GM
Starring: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou, Kate Hudson, Michael Sheen, Rupert Penry Jones, Kris Marshall, Uncle Argyle


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A sweeping historical saga so steeped in majesty and drama that it will leave you emotionally drained and personally satisfied? Frayed knot.

A stumbling historical saga so tepid in story and fluidity that it will leave you emotionally uninvolved and personally indifferent? 'Fraid so.

The story is thus: There are a bunch of preppy fucks in the British army (their regiment is called the Cummerbunds or the Cumcatchers or something like that) playing rugby in the late 1800s. This bunch includes Harry (Ledger), Jack (Bentley), Willoughby (Jones), Trench (Sheen) and Castleton (Marshall). Then they get sent up to go fight some bullshit war in The Sudan to stomp some silly African revolt against the rightful rule of the British race. Harry immediately bolts the army, bringing shame, disgrace and metaphorical loogies upon himself, his family name and his fiancee Ethne (Hudson). He's branded a coward, which is symbolized by his closest friends each sending him a white feather - save for Jack, who stands by his best friend. Even Ethne calls him a coward for deserting. So this results in Harry somehow finding courage enough to travel to the Sudan on his own and try to sneak around and help his old cronies stay alive, even hooking up with a friendly native named Abu (Hounsou) that thinks God wants him to protect the scrappy Brit. Thus he proves he's not a coward by saving all their lives. Well, except for Castleton, who seems to be the only guy to realize their whole purpose for being there is arrogant bullshit snooty Empire vanity, but he can't reconcile it with his love o' the monarchy, and thus he meanders into crossfire in a holy daze.

I'm down for a broad historical adventure as much as the next schmuck, but it's gotta be able to grab you. Perhaps I'm new-fangled, but I find it hard to care about a cabal of yes-men attempting to further the cause of world domination. The whole story seems to be told from the perspective of the villains, but hoping we'll see them as the heroes. Yeah, there's about one-line of lip-service to the idea that Britain should not be attempting to control any African nations, and the aghast look that Jack shoots Harry after he mentions such a thing, I suppose, should make us think that "that sort of thought just isn't spoken! My word, sir! My god, man! In this day and age?! Really! Well, I never! Tosh and bother! God save the queen! Bad show, there, DM. Colonel K, over and out." However, even though the actual desert assault scene looks incredible, it comes with a bit of a shrug and the thought that "well, sorry, guys, but you, uh, you kinda deserve to be slaughtered. 'Twould be more just if you could transfer the slaughter to the burgeoise that gave you your marching orders and have such an arrogant desire to control the globe, true, but the folks whose land you're trying to steal from them will have to settle for the red-shirted lockstep losers they can get their hands on. Cheerio, chaps."

Perhaps I was just supposed to be aghast at the general horrors of war, or more likely, the war wasn't supposed to matter as much as Harry's amazing display of courage is. However, that's not quite as impressive when it's his handy African pal that gets him out of all the scrapes he gets into. Maybe it's just the thought that counts.

The story is trying to be too much and winds up not being enough. The accents seemed a bit off even to my untrained ear, and the timeline skips about haphazardly with plenty of "oh, I guess it's been a month or so now" moments. Ledger constantly sounds Australian, but he gives a reasonably charismatic performance. Bentley's Jack is a bit more interesting as the modest, obedient soldier that asks no questions and gets fucked over by life because of it. Kate Hudson... well, at times, she looks startlingly like my first girlfriend, so I can never really look at her objectively. Her role, though, seems a bit superfluous. It's as if the screenwriters saw "Titanic" and "Pearl Harbor" and said "We need to stuff a love triangle in here somewhere!" and then tried to shoehorn this one in. It just doesn't quite fit.

As an aside, this is at least the third time this film has been made. It would be interesting to see how the political correctness progression has occurred from the 1939 and 1977 editions.

Anyway, after one of the worst ending moments I've seen in a while, I left the theater rather underwhelmed and already shrugging it off, since I never cared deeply enough about anyone in the story to be invested in the outcome. I think I'll go watch "Braveheart" again.

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