In his directorial debut Russell Crowe wasn’t content to simply make one movie. Instead he made “The Water Diviner,” an all-encompassing film that is a war story, a family drama, a road movie, a romance, an ode to tolerance and the tale of a man with mystical powers.
Crowe sets the backdrop for the story with an opening scene detailing one of the great Allied disasters of World War One, the Battle of Gallipoli. In a standoff between the Turkish Army, led by Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) horrific loss of life led to the Australian Army retreating, leaving behind many fallen comrades.
Cut to the Australian out back. Joshua Connor (Crowe) is a burly farmer with a gift for finding water in the arid countryside. His wife is a broken woman, devastated at the loss of their three sons, all killed in combat at Gallipoli. She switches between blaming Joshua for allowing them to go to war and pretending they are still alive. When her grief becomes too much, he makes her a promise, “I’ll find them, love,” he says, “I’ll find them and bring them back to you.”
Next stop, Constantinople. Connor travels to the exotic Turkish land to find the remains of his sons, bring them back to Australia and bury them in home soil. There he meets hotelier Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) and her precocious son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades). Romance brews, war between the Greeks and the Turks heats up, and honour is tested as this fish-out-of-water makes his way through the Ottoman Empire.
There is much to like in “The Water Diviner.” Andrew “Lord of the Rings” Lesnie’s cinematography is handsome and effective throughout, particularly in the war scenes. The storytelling is clear and concise and doesn’t glorify war or demonize the Turkish Army and there are nice performances throughout. Young Georgiades is a spark plug and Erdogan is the epitome of grace under fire and dignity. Crowe brings low key determination tempered by stoicism while Kurylenko, who is usually treated as part of the set decoration, is soulful in her portrayal of a war widow who has a hard time accepting that her husband isn’t coming back from the battlefield.
As good as Crowe and Kurylenko are it’s their relationship that brings the melodrama to a movie that doesn’t need a love story to keep our attention. The goo-goo eyes on display bring to mind “A Good Year,” Crowe’s ill-advised attempt at adding rom com stardom to his resume. It feels out-of-place and unnecessary in a movie that already hits many organic emotional highs in the story of a father searching for his dead sons.
“The Water Diviner” is a sweeping historical drama about one man; a personal story set against a huge backdrop that studies a father’s sorrow and a nation’s tribulations.