A stilted, so-so period pic, Shekhar Kapur's remake of the 1939 imperialist epic is as unnecessary as it is uninteresting.
The seventh screen version of AEW Mason's 1898 novel, it adds nothing to Zoltan Korda's accepted classic, screwing up the story and providing precious little perspective on the outmoded politics of the age of Empire.
In England, 1875, Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) is a callow young officer infatuated with Ethne (Kate Hudson). When his regiment is ordered to scrap in the Sudan, he quits - bound by love, or is it fear?
His fiancée and best friends are in no doubt, sending him the titular plumage as a symbol of his cowardice. Pride pricked and heart broken, he heads out to Africa anyway, in a bid to help his friends, incognito.
As a Boy's Own yarn, this should be irresistible: a man-on-a-mission actioner, "Die Hard" in the desert, if you will. Or Kapur ("Elizabeth") could have ditched the traditional and struck a revisionist tone. The story's set during a war of European greed and aggression, against Arab revolutionaries; the contemporary parallels are obvious.
Instead, the film falls between two stools - compelling with neither drama or politics. The action drifts along with semi-coherence, bearing witness to studio scissors (the movie was once four hours long, it's now just over two), while the revisionism amounts to British soldiers looking mildly perturbed as they shoot and flog the "wogs".
Perhaps Djimon Hounsou's Heath-helping sidekick was supposed to give a Sudanese perspective, but all he does is spout homilies and kowtow to whitey. They might was well call him 'Noble Savage'.
At least everyone is well-served by the visuals (another triumph for "Platoon" cinematographer Robert Richardson), but the beauty of the battle scenes can't compensate for the bloodlessness elsewhere. This is flat, lifeless filmmaking. The only person you'll want to rescue is yourself.