White feather for Kapur?
Western press's flak for The Four Feathers
Arthur J Pais
Is The Four Feathers the movie that Shekhar Kapur set out to make? Is this a purportedly revisionist version of the jingoistic British book and films bearing the same title? Or did Kapur unwittingly succumb to the legend of the British empire --- and deserves a few white feathers --- the symbol of cowardice in the movie --- for his own transgressions? Is this the film, which a few weeks ago major publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Chicago Sun-Times and Daily News were speculating as an Oscar contender?
While a handful of publications such as New York Post have given the film enthusiastic reviews calling it splendidly acted, animatedly shot and made into gorgeous production, many reviewers have given it two (out of four) stars.
Some like the Associated Press and USA Today have been outright negative. With such a raft of so-so and negative reviews, a film of this nature that depends so much on reviews might also have lost its Oscar nomination hopes.
The film about a young British soldier who refuses to join the Army in the war in Sudan and is condemned as a coward by his friends and fiancee was not to be a tribute to the British empire, Kapur had said. Though the young man later slips into Sudan to save his friends from an imminent death and redeems his honour, Kapur also said that, overall, the film was meant to show the havoc of colonialism.
But to Associated Press, the film looked more of a tribute to British endurance. The reviewer said it was particularly shocking that Kapur, an Indian, was letting the British get away with murder in Sudan.
Rogert Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times, a widely syndicated reviewer, wasn't a coward and admitted he was wrong in championing the film. According to him, 'looking ahead to the Toronto Film Festival, I foolishly wrote that I was looking forward to The Four Feathers because I was 'intrigued by the notion that a story of British colonialism has now been retold by an Indian director.
'We await the revisionist Gunga Din. Foolish, because the film is not revisionist at all, but a skilled update of the same imperialist swashbuckler that's been made into six earlier films and a TV movie (the classic is the 1939 version, with Ralph Richardson and C Aubrey Smith).
'I do not require Kapur to be a revisionist anti-imperialist; it's just that I don't expect a director born in India to be quite so fond of the British Empire. '
Dismissing the film with a short review, Mike Clark of USA Today declared: 'For those who thought director Shekhar Kapur's previous film, Elizabeth, was painfully overrated, you are free to say, I told you so.
'His stodgy style halts the momentum of young actors who have impressed in other movies: Heath Ledger (The Patriot), Wes Bentley (American Beauty) and Kate Hudson (Oscar-nominated for Almost Famous). They're appallingly stiff in a screen bundle of leaden feathers unlikely to tickle anyone.'
The New York Post saw the film very differently and gave it three (out of four stars) calling it the first serious Oscar contender so far.
'As the West now stands on the brink of a major war in the Middle East,' the review said. 'there's a positively eerie timeliness to Kapur's splendidly spectacular, intelligent and very well-acted new version of The Four Feathers that century-old classic of sacrifice, bravery and loyalty in the Arabian desert.'
The trade publication Variety said the film could have a mediocre box-office run in America but a better reception abroad where it opens after a couple of weeks.
Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com expects the film to gross about $10 million, a so-so gross considering it is playing in about 1,700 movie houses in North America. If that prediction comes true and the word of mouth is not strong, the movie could end its American run with about $35 million Kapur's Elizabeth grossed about $40 million in America four years ago and a robust $60 million abroad.
But tickets were less expensive; it was far better reviewed than Kapur's current film. And at about $40 million production cost, its budget was about half that of The Four Feathers.