Having enlisted in the Royal Cumbrians because that is what was expected of him by this father Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger - The Patriot) hopes to serve out his commission peacefully before marrying the attractive Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson - Bride Wars). But when news reaches them that the regiment will be heading to Sudan to do battle his fears get the better of him and resigns his commission using Ethne as his reason. But his friends know the truth and Ethne learns the truth when he receives white feathers as a sign of cowardice. With his life in tatters and disowned by his father Harry heads to the Sudan where he plans to watch over his friends in hope of redeeming himself.
So first things first this 2002 version of "The Four Feathers" is not a remake of the 1939 version directed by Zoltan Korda or any of the other versions which have come in between. Nope this is a new take on A.E.W. Mason's story which keeps the basic idea but changes various aspects which those who have watched other versions will be familiar with. Now on one hand that is annoying because this alternate version has left out some of the best bits and altered some a little too much and lost plenty of the cleverness and depth of the story. But I can understand why because this movie is made for those who wouldn't be seen dead watching the 1939 version.
What that does mean is that this version of "The Four Feathers" aims to please a young audience who will watch because it stars Heath Ledger and will defend it as great because he is in it. And it works on that level; there is heroics, romance and a sweeping musical score from James Horner to accompany the natural majestic nature of the desert. I mention Horner because this version of "The Four Feathers" feels romanticized in the same way Cameron's "Titanic" was and James Horner famously did the score for that as well.
The trouble is that in basically romanticizing the story it has also lost a lot of authenticity replacing it with crowd pleasing scenes and characters. The whole opening which sets up the love triangle of Harry, Ethne and Jack is wrong on so many levels it is ridiculous none more so in the laddish behaviour of Ethne. Again it works for the target audience but not for those who are watching because of the original story or because of the 1939 movie.
As for the performances well it is has crowd pleasers from Heath Ledger to Kate Hudson who all have the right look and appeal for modern audiences. But the characters are not right and in truth little more than one dimensional characters in a romance which is desperate to be epic but never achieves it. It doesn't achieve it because it is trying too hard, trying to do what other movies have done visually with out finding the heart of the story to make those scenes have the epic quality they strive for.
What this all boils down to is that this version of "The Four Feathers" probably worked for older teens when it was released with its good looking cast and romanticized story. But for fans of the 1939 version it is lacking in power and passion and is ultimately inferior.