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The Four Feathers

Nice touch opening this period epic with a football game featuring Heath Ledger and a cast of studs going at it as if they were in training for Super Bowl 2003. But director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) can’t con us for long. The game is rugby, the actors are playing British officers, and The Four Feathers, based on A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel, is focused on the 1884 British campaign to grab a piece of northern Africa.

Ledger gives his all to the role of Harry Feversham, the general’s son who resigns on the eve of battle in the Sudan. His three friends each send him a white feather, a symbol for being chickenshit. Then his fiancee, Ethne (Kate Hudson), sends the fourth feather. Ouch.

o Harry spends the rest of the movie disguised as an Arab, trying to save his pals and prove his worth. It should have been an old-fashioned rouser, and sometimes it is. The great cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK) lights the battle scenes like action paintings. But Kapur weighs down the tale with bogus profundities.

And the romance — Harry’s friend Jack (Wes Bentley) tries to woo away Ethne — saps the movie’s energy. It’s painfully artificial to hear L.A. girl Hudson Brit-chirp, “I cahn’t.” And don’t ask about the character who sees the evils of imperialism only after he goes blind. Please, I cahn’t.

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