Release: Friday, April 24, 2015
Written by: Andrew Knight; Andrew Anastasios
Directed by: Russell Crowe
Guided more by passion than a need for coherence, Russell Crowe’s directorial debut is strong enough to ensure there will be projects forthcoming from the Academy Award-winning Aussie.
Crowe busies himself by taking on the lead of, funny enough, Australian farmer Joshua Connor who is adept at locating pockets of water deep underground on his sprawling property. The year is 1919 and the dust from World War I is still settling. Joshua and Liza (Jacqueline McKenzie)’s three sons have not returned from the fight in Gallipoli and each are presumed to have perished at this point. Liza, unable to cope with the loss, ends up taking her own life.
These terrible events set the wheels of Crowe’s historically-tinged sojourn in motion. Having to bury his wife in his backyard, Joshua vows to find their boys and provide them a proper burial beside her. To any other person the odds against finding them would be knowledge enough to shred any last fibers of hope, but as Joshua explains later, hope is a necessity where he comes from. His first stop is in Turkey, where he stays in an Istanbul hotel run by the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), herself made a widower by the war. She has a young boy named Orhan (dangerously close to ‘orphan,’ wouldn’t you say?) with whom Joshua bonds during his brief stay in the hotel.
After warming to Joshua upon hearing his reason for his visit, Ayshe tips Joshua off to the possibility of talking his way onto a boat bound for the shores of Gallipoli, an island that is now more akin to a mass grave than a place anyone would dare visit. Of course, Joshua’s trip isn’t for pleasure. When he arrives there he encounters more resistance from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who are scouring the territory for remnants of the dead and have declared the grounds off-limits to civilians.
Much to his advantage a Turkish officer, Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdoğan), who had experienced the bloodbath on these grounds and happened to be in the company of Joshua’s three sons, permits him to stay after putting two and two together. Recalling the surname and citing that he’s the only father who came looking for his children, Hasan’s empathy can easily be read, at the peril of the film’s credibility, as an insincere, somewhat flippant reaction to justify The Water Diviner‘s most unlikely story as well as its attendant emotional manipulation.
It is upon these isles of hardscrabble and stubborn vegetation where some 7,000 Turks and thousands of non-Turkish soldiers were slaughtered before British forces were forced to retreat, this battle lost but the end game — the Allied powers’ ultimate victory over the Ottoman Empire — won. To that end, it seems odd that this personal story, adapted from screenwriter Andrew Anastasios’ book of the same name, should bear worth mentioning given the dramatic backdrop of so many left buried and scattered amongst the ruins but I guess that kind of argument becomes academic as soon as a man of Crowe’s stature takes an interest in the material.
However, skeptics are given more opportunity to question The Water Diviner‘s raison d’être as character development is sparser than water sources in the Outback. Crowe’s paralleling of Joshua’s prophetic abilities is pretty hokey. Seemingly he’s just as adept at finding water as he is finding the remains of those he sent off to war. While his character feels authentic given all he has lost, others are not as lucky. Kurylenko’s character flips the switch from cold as ice to becoming a potential future wife for Joshua in the span of a few scenes of saccharinity. (Hey, the sweeter your coffee, the more likely it is that your barista likes you, right?) The British government intervene in Joshua’s mission just to throw more wrenches in his plan, citing bureaucracy because of . . . well, reasons. Though none are painted in as broad a stroke as the nasty, brutish Greeks, who play a role that wouldn’t be so out of place in 300.
This all being said, The Water Diviner is not without its strengths. Crowe clearly — admirably — finds a striking contrast in the natural beauty and a haunting historical significance in the locales. These otherwise gorgeous places conceal horrendous occurrences that we bear witness to in shocking flashbacks, a great many involving Joshua’s sons. And despite a lack of development for his characters Crowe has attracted a cast that is more than capable of delivering the gravitas a war film requires. Tender moments between Joshua, Ayshe and Orhan have their charm. And Crowe himself is excellent in the lead.
He has ample room to grow as a director, certainly. After all, few people, if any, have perfected the art of the craft the moment they settle into the chair, and while it doesn’t do anyone much good in making excuses, it’s plain to see his acting pedigree has helped more often than it has hindered him here.
Recommendation: Those who embrace culturally and historically significant films ought to test out Russell Crowe’s first directorial effort. It does bear the markings of a first-timer in that capacity but as an actor he is as reliable as ever. Heartrending, inspiring, gruesome and beautiful in equal measure, The Water Diviner is going to satisfy anyone who has appreciated the Aussie’s contributions to film in the last few decades.
Running Time: 111 mins.
Quoted: “It was my job to steer my boys to manhood. And I failed them.”
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