The Water Diviner: Film Review
Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogen
Director: Russell Crowe
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC involvement in Gallipoli, it's only natural that Aussie actor Russell Crowe would feel the pull of life behind the camera with this, his directorial debut.
Set four years after the devastation of Gallipoli in Turkey in World War I, Aussie farmer Connor (a bearded, understated and relatively muted Crowe) is struggling to cope with the loss of his three MIA sons. When his wife succumbs to her grief, Connor decides enough is enough and packs up to head to Turkey to try and find out once and for all what happened to them and to fulfill her dying wish they all be buried together.
Initially rejected by the army (including Dan Wyllie's stereotyped straight down the middle-chocks-away general), but with a cause taken on by Jai Courtney's moustachioed and stoic Lt-Colonel, Connor ignores the rebuttal and heads to Istanbul regardless - forging a relationship with Ayshe, a Turkish woman whose husband is also missing post- Gallipoli.
The Water Diviner is a heady mix of the creative and the occasionally cheesy.
Crowe's peppered his pictorial premiere behind the lens with a preponderance of war flashbacks and slow mo shots that somewhat pile on the emotion and manipulation as this bond of brothers story and overwrought melodrama plays out.
Olga Kurylenko feels a little wooden initially as Ayshe, taking time to settle in and awkwardly feeling like a potential romance / friendship was shoe-horned into proceedings that are based on true events, and their interactions slow down the piece. Equally, a scene where Connor uses that most Aussie of icons (currently), the cricket bat to take out a squadron of Greeks about to execute some Turkish soldiers rankles rather than triumphs. And Connor's ability to divine where his children have fallen (interlaced as it is with flashbacks to the sons at war) causes more head-scratching than actual emotional heft.
And yet, there are some flourishes in among the crowd-pleasing which really do mark The Water Diviner out as something a little different.
Crowe starts the film from behind the Turkish lines, wrong-footing you into believing we're watching Aussies; sequences in the actual trenches are visceral and like repeated blows to the stomach as they show the true horror of hand-to-hand combat; and throwaway shots like a mountain of bones clutch at more disgust than any lingering shot could ever achieve.
It's the understated moments which are the more moving and powerful within The Water Diviner.
Aided by a strong performance from Crowe as the father-on-a-mission and interactions with Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogen have a resonance that's lacking in scenes with Kurylenko and the bureaucratic Wyllie, The Water Diviner proves to be a solid directorial debut from the usually brash Crowe.
However, a dialling down of the more manipulative elements, a pulling back of the over-egging of the emotional pudding and an avoidance of the cheesier could have seen this Water Diviner strike cinematic gold - instead, we're left with a film that's occasionally evocative and moving but fails to fully soar as it quests to be a fitting and different piece for the 100th commemorations of the ANZAC involvement in Gallipoli.