From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Movie time: ‘The Good Girl,’ ‘The Four Feathers’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 3, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

In my memory I saw one of the six versions of The Four Feathers when I was age 10 in Albany, Ore., in 1950, when a ticket for a child was 20 cents.

The newest incarnation of The Four Feathers, directed by Shekhar Kapur, is now in movie theaters.

Some moviegoers say that they just don’t make movies like they did back in the 1930s and ’40s. Well, here we have a movie that in many ways is very much like an epic film of the “good old days.”

The Four Feathers is a movie that is about courage, faithfulness, and valor. It also is about empire-building, misuse of power, and racism.

Harry (Heath Ledger) has just been commissioned into a special brigade of the British forces near the end of the 19th century. He has enjoyed his experience of training and education. He has bonded well with his mates.

However, Harry becomes fearful when he hears the entire brigade is being send into a dangerous civil war in the Sudan. He resigns. He expects his beloved to understand. But Ethne (Kate Hudson) is worried about how others will look at them as a couple. Three of his mates send him three white feathers as a sign that they consider him a coward. Later Ethne sends him a fourth white feather. Harry’s father (Tim Pigot-Smith), a military officer, disowns him also.

After a period of depression Harry leaves for Sudan as a private citizen to prove to his colleagues that he is not a coward. His best friend Jack (Wes Bentley) from Sudan begins a series of love letters to Ethne, whom he has always loved.

Harry is almost killed as he traverses the deserts of the Sudan. In the process he meets the African, Abou (Djimon Housou), who saves his life and, for reasons that seem a bit of a stretch, becomes his savior several times.

The main British force with all of Harry’s friends is encamped in a dangerous position while Harry is captured in a fortress controlled by the native insurgent forces. Harry sends Abou to warn the British forces. The British military leader has Abou whipped because he believes Abou is a spy. So the forces stay in a danger area as the native army begins its attack from all sides.

The Four Feathers has a very exciting battle sequence that seems almost old-fashioned in its design. Nowadays a cast of thousands would cost a fortune. Robert Richardson, director of photography, shoots the battle scenes in such a way to look like the epics of long ago. Richardson’s cinematography of the barren deserts and desolate valleys is extraordinarily beautiful.

Personally, if the characters don’t have a right-on British accent, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, with less accent I am better able to hear the dialogue correctly. Of the three main characters, Heath Ledger from Australia is the best with the English accent. He does a very good job of acting. As he matures Ledger has the potential of being a fine actor.

Bentley and Hudson do serviceable jobs. Housou as the mysterious African who goes off into the sunset is excellent.

For some, The Four Feathers will show the cruelty of racism, and yet seems to revel in the ideology of the Great White Empire. For others, The Four Feathers will be an attempt to portray the different races and followers of Christianity and Islam as a mixed bag of good and bad human beings. It is interesting that Hollywood hasn’t made many movies of the American Revolutionary War with the good guys being the British and the Americans being the radical revolutionaries destroying society.

On the whole, a less than perfect epic was enjoyable to see. Sometimes it is a special journey to return to a period genre that is not often done today. Sometimes it is good to remember the awe a child might have in being in another world for 20 cents.

The Four Feathers is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) because of violence, bloodshed and heavy drinking. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Four Feathers A-III – adults.

*****

Last month I was in Hastings, Minn., near St. Paul, visiting my sister, Patty. She had not yet seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding. So we saw that film in a packed theater the second night I was there. I must admit I enjoyed the film a second time almost as much as I did seeing it the first time back in July.

The next day we saw Jennifer Aniston’s new film, The Good Girl. The film is a mixed bag as the writer Mike White creates a script about a small town in Texas as if he has never crossed the Hudson from New York City. Yes, some of the satire if funny. But some of it is downright cruel.

Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston) works in a discount store in a small Texan town. She is totally bored with her life. Throughout the whole movie there are maybe 20 customers in the store. The clerks rarely wait on a customer so they do seem pretty bored. Justine’s friends at the store played by Deborah Rush and Zooey Deschanel are a hoot. One announces the specials with a sense of sarcasm that finally causes her to be moved to the women’s make-up department, where she does quite a job on the few customers we see.

One day Justine looks over and sees another bored clerk, Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose great hero is Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger's novel Catcher in the Rye. He looks at her and the gods from A Midsummer Night’s Dream strike with slowly building ferocity.

At home after work each day, Justine watches as her housepainter husband (John C. Reilly) with his best buddy gets high on pot. There is not much romance at home. Justine feels trapped.

Slowly she reaches out to Holden – later, we find out that that is not his real name. Seemingly innocently, she finds in Holden a friend who listens to her and treats her as a very special person.

All of sudden Justine, in her 30s, is committing adultery with Holden, who is in his early 20s. We later find out that Holden has had some severe mental health problems.

There are a number of subplots and lots of stereotypes of unloving parents and hypercritical Christians. There are slowly building cruelty and lies. But also like many a human being Justine tries to walk one step at a time through world that is far from ideal.

Jennifer Aniston, well familiar from her television hit Friends, shows she can break out and play a different kind of character. Jake Gyllenhaal, who is in several new movies this fall, plays the wounded young man with sympathy and understanding. John C. Reilly has his role as the take-life-for-granted husband down perfectly.

The Good Girl is a small film with good acting that tries to read a particular part of the country and its people with almost snobbish superiority. Through it all we do sympathize with the characters who get in very human conundrums that are not easy to solve. There efforts which hurt each other in many ways remind us how the choices of our lives have deep ramifications on those we most love.

The Good Girl is rated R for sexual themes. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Good Girl A-IV– adults, with reservations.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)


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