And the Oscar goes to … Heath Ledger, “The Four Feathers.”
Yes, you read that correctly, and no, I’m not kidding. In fact, I’m also predicting that this movie will walk away with Best Picture. It’s that good. Then again, one expects nothing less from a movie of this proportion. The elements are all there – a young, talented cast, a well-written script and a sampling of all things epic: friendship, family, country, God and love.
Neither the themes nor the story are new; various versions of the movie have been made several times over. Yet there is something perfectly refreshing about this one. To start with, it’s beautiful, and I’m not just talking about Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson and Ledger. Cinematographer Robert Richardson masterfully captures the magnificence of the desert as well as the elegance of art director Keith Pain’s sets, leaving the audience with images nothing less than stunning. Even the pictures in the press kit are worth looking at.
The real story here is the cast. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think Ledger could pull it off. Movies like “A Knight’s Tale” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” while establishing his good looks and captivating smile, are hardly enough to convince one of his ability to play Harry Faversham in “Feathers.” The role puts Ledger to the test, both on and off screen (yes, they really were in the desert, and yes, his sunburn is real), and he passes with flying colors. As Faversham, Ledger’s looks take a backseat when he transforms from a high-powered English soldier to an exile in rags, with his acting as unfailing as his character’s spirit.
Bentley may also get an Oscar nod for his role as Lt. Jack Durrance, a clean-cut, friendly soldier and a far cry from the dark, mysterious character he was becoming known for in films like “American Beauty” and “Soul Survivors.” Durrance and Faversham have a very close friendship that nothing, except maybe the charming Miss Hudson, could break. Yet even the predictable love triangle that follows is salvaged by the strength of the acting; Hudson definitely creates better on-screen chemistry with Ledger, but as her character is not supposed to love Bentley equally, it fits, whether contrived or not.
It’s an interesting time to have a movie about a war in a Muslim country, especially as Faversham questions what a rebellion in the desert has to do with “her majesty, the queen.” Perhaps the biggest strength of the movie is that it does not glorify either culture or religion, but instead points out weaknesses in both. For all of the beautiful images mentioned earlier, there are several disturbing scenes that reflect on the inhumanity of the British Empire that rivals that of the so-called “savages.”
So what are you waiting for? “The Four Feathers” deserves to be seen on the big screen, and is definitely worth two hours of your time. And when it sweeps the Oscars, just remember, Artsweek said it first.