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The Four Feathers

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
The Four Feathers

from Film Forum, 09/26/02

Director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) is back with a new epic. Well, perhaps it's not so new. The Four Feathers, a novel by A.E.W. Mason, has already been a film five times over. This latest production stars Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, and Kate Hudson as tormented Brits caught up in war, love, and the desire to prove their courage. Like last year's Pearl Harbor, the cinematography and spectacular battle scenes are gaining raves, but the rest of the drama, including the love triangle, is getting boos.

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) enjoyed the film because it "deals with friendships, loyalty and love relationships … man's faith, his will to survive, and his trust in God."

But Michael Elliott calls it "a jumbled mix of missed opportunities … a film that would have benefited from being longer in order to tell its tale more completely." J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) writes it off as predictable, "fairly typical stuff."

Steven D. Greydanus questions why an Indian director "would choose to make a movie that takes such an oddly old-fashioned and uncritical view of a hero who finds manhood and honor in learning to fight and kill non-Europeans on the colonial battlefield in order to win the respect of his peers and father and beloved."

Gerri Pare (Catholic News) argues that it "maintains a bleak and oppressive tone." She adds that it "takes an ironic and ultimately critical view of the role of religion and God, seeing them as a motivation and justification for what are actually wars of conquest and revenge."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) claims the film is "an excellent redemptive movie that, despite its flaws, should be seen by mature Christian audiences everywhere. It is also another one of this year's fine Christian parables of the indomitable human spirit." (Is there any such thing?)

Preview's critics make their call based on different aspects, complaining about glimpses of "bare male rears" and objectionable violence that is "more intense than necessary."

Mainstream critics such as Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) aren't greatly impressed: "We're supposed to be watching Harry restore his warrior's code of honor, but the movie is too embarrassed to admit that it's that very code that resulted in his fellow Brits thinking they could take over the desert in the first place."

Anthony Lane (The New Yorker) criticizes the cast: "Bentley … has mastered the bayonet charge and the brutishness of rugby, but the mysteries of an English accent reduce him to abject terror. Kate Hudson, never less than lovely, has a wholly modern air that no layers of costume can stifle, while Heath Ledger, being an Australian, has all the virtues, such as openness and unstarched humor, that people, then as now, left England in order to acquire. You could argue that this makes him perfect for the hero, the rebel soul, except that he doesn't look rebellious; he just looks miserable."

Roger Ebert says, "The problem … is that the characters are so feckless, the coincidences so blatant and the movie so innocent of any doubts about the White Man's Burden that Kipling could have written it although if he had, there would have been deeper psychology and better roles for the locals."

from Film Forum, 10/03/02

The large-scale historical epic The Four Feathers, which Film Forum covered in greater detail last week, continued dividing critics.

Dick Staub's (CultureWatch) calls it "A dramatic story of redemption and restoration." And he offers questions for post-viewing discussion: "Whose side is God on? What is the significance of both sides praying before entering a conflict only one can win? Why is Abou's spiritual life so real and governing in his life while Harry's Christian spirituality so insipid?"

Alex Field (Relevant Magazine) writes, "The viewer is immediately engaged from the opening frames because the film is so visually stunning with its sandscapes, sunsets and stirring slow motion action sequences. Unfortunately, the film starts to feel long about two thirds of the way through. It is at this point that the timeline starts to get hazy and choppy editing disrupts the seamlessness of the earlier part of the movie. Character motivation goes sour and the story skitters to a bumpy end that is satisfying and bittersweet but anticlimactic at the same time."