The Four Feathers

A couple of years ago, Walt Disney Pictures announced they were going to remake “The Parent Trap.” I was outraged. “The Parent Trap,” starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith and Maureen O’Sullivan, is not only a personal favorite, it’s a classic of its kind. I had no desire to see the remake, but duty called. I went in expecting the worst, and came out feeling as if I had just relived a piece of my childhood.

Shouldn’t every generation have their own “Parent Trap”? Those adorable twins, Mary- Kate and Ashley Olsen, pulled off a quasi-remake of “The Parent Trap” called “It Takes Two” and the world didn’t explode or reverse its orbit.

Which brings me to the point. Should, or even better put, does every generation deserve their own adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s century-old novel “The Four Feathers”? Based on the latest incarnation, the answer is a resounding no. There have been more versions of “The Four Feathers” than Joan Rivers face.

The best version of the Mason story was director Zoltan Zorda’s 1939 British production, which he later remade in 1955 as “Storm Over the Nile.” I don’t understand filmmaker’s obsession with remaking good movies. Why don’t they remake bad movies? They’re the ones desperately in need of a face lift. Doesn’t anyone care that there’s a good movie hiding inside “Beware The Blob!”

Unless you’ve had more than two buzz saw accidents in shop class, you can count the number of “Four Feather” remakes on both hands. The latest version by writers Michael Schiffer and Hossein Amini gives the finger to the source material, casually tossing aside tradition in order to make the material more accessible to the valuable but presumably brain-dead 14-25 year old demographic who probably think “The Four Feathers” is a sexual act.

If I were a 14-25 year old, I would be incensed. It’s one thing to dumb down comedies, but it’s insulting to believe that the same demographic wouldn’t be willing to buy into a powerful and compelling story about friendship, cowardice, redemption, and most of all, honor. Is it naive to presume that these ideas are so foreign to today’s youth that they have to be played out in the broadest possible sense?

Director Shekhar Kapur seems content to make an epic, forgetting that the characters are the story. The actors frequently get lost in the pomp and pageantry. Heath Ledger, whose powerful turn as Billy Bob Thornton’s son in “Monster’s Ball” proved he is an actor to be reckoned with, is bland as Mason’s tortured hero Harry Feversham, an officer in an elite British military unit preparing to ship off to battle. Just engaged to the lovely and influential Ethne (Kate Hudson), Harry has second thoughts about leaving to defend a British outpost in Khartoum and resigns his commission.

Branded a coward by his friends and fiancee, Harry’s only friend is fellow officer Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley). When Harry learns that Jack and his fellow officers are in serious trouble, he secretly rides to their rescue, growing his hair and getting a tan in order to pass as a local.

The previous versions of “The Four Feathers” were about more than heroism and redemption. Like Mason’s book, they tackled the political undercurrent of colonialism which led to the Sudan massacre in 1884. Kapur’s attempt to balance the scales actually makes for an uneven film. The revisionist take on the story robs it of any dramatic depth.

What was once noble becomes somewhat ordinary and routine, a sandstorm of malaise that treats each and every character with disregard. Ledger looks handsome in uniform, but once he becomes “Harry of Arabia,” it becomes impossible to take anything he does or says seriously. After about an hour you begin to ask yourself, “was Ishtar really that bad?”

I like both Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson, but I would never wish this film on them. Hudson was so extraordinary in “Almost Famous,” but she looks uncomfortable as the lovely lass who steals both Harry and Jack’s hearts. Hudson’s dress has more layers than her character. Since “The Claim” and “American Beauty,” Bentley has become the Bard of Brood, and while Bentley tries to accent Jack’s angst, the character is so thinly written he frequently disappears into the background.

After directing the exquisite “Elizabeth,” Kapur and “The Four Feathers” seemed like a good fit. The end result is hardly a match made in Heaven. The film looks sharp, with postcard perfect photography and a rousing musical score by James Horner. What it lacks is a purpose, a reason to exist.


Remake of “Four Feathers” has little pluck


Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen. Directed by Shekhar Kapur. Rated PG-13. 127 Minutes.


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