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Volume 68, Issue 19, Friday, September 20, 2002

Arts & Entertainment

Formulaic 'Four Feathers' rides nostalgia, charm 
in war movie

By Ray Hafner
The Daily Cougar

The Four Feathers, set in 1888, is based on a book written in 1902, so it's no surprise this latest version feels like something from a different time.

The film feels like an old serial-action story. The characters are stereotypical and the story, about savage Muslims slaughtering British calvary is nearly offensive.

Somehow, though, the movie possesses a charming sense of nostalgia, harkening back to an era when it was clear who the bad guys were, and courage and honor were all men needed. Any popcorn flick fan raised on classic action adventure film like Gunga Din will find something to like.

The MTV generation will have to focus on the film's bevy of attractive kids.

Heath Ledger plays Harry Faversham, the son of a famed British military general. Harry spent his whole life following in his dad's boots, until his newly minted regiment gets an assignment for battle in the Sudan.

Harry's afraid, though, and resigns his post so he can stay with his fiancé Ethne (Kate Hudson).

In that era, a white feather symbolized cowardice, and Harry is given three from his pals. Finally Ethne adds her own, unable to marry a coward.

These romantic scenes work fine, except that in many instances Ledger actually looks prettier than Hudson. In a scene near the end of the movie, Ledger is wearing more mascara than she is.

At this point, the romance is put on pause as Harry travels to the Sudan on his own to aid his former fellow soldiers.

The plot is connect-the-dots from this point on. Harry may have excelled in the academy, but he is a lousy soldier.

Fortunately for Harry, Djimoun Hounsou, as Abou Fatma, enters the picture, and does all the work.

Abou's role at first appears racist, but later the filmmakers take a moment to highlight the imperial British Army's racism.

One interesting note is that during the desert scenes Ledger looks like an image of John Walker Lindh of the American taliban. Even more curious is that Harry works on the side of the Muslim warriors.

This picture is directed by Shekhar Kapur who's last film, Elizabeth, earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best director. That talent is not on display here. This is probably due more to a script that would be considered formulaic in 1902.

That is almost a plus, as things don't always end happily.

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