The Water Diviner
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 21st December 2014
Say what you like about Russell Crowe, but the man cares a lot. Giving everything to a role (even though Noah was the cinematic lowpoint of my year, there’s no disputing Crowe’s commitment), he has turned out many a fine, Oscar-worthy performance in his career.
The Water Diviner is Crowe’s exceptionally well-meaning directorial debut and, as befitting the egotistical one, he also stars in it as the titular father, Joshua Connor, who travels to Turkey four years after the battle of Gallipoli to search for his three sons.
The narrative ploughs forward as the grieving Australian encounters chatty street urchins and beautiful single mothers (all speaking impeccable English), while flashbacks spell out the likely demise of his beloved children.
Worthy as ever, in this tale Crowe has sought to give voice to the Turks’ side of the infamously disastrous campaign in World War I, though he does not court controversy – here the Turks, too, are grieving, yet generally willing to help this face of the Allied enemy.
This is all very well, but the clichéd narrative undermines Crowe’s attempt at a serious picture – there is an inevitable romantic subplot (heavily signposted in the coffee grounds) and saccharine moments in slow-motion prevail over the well-rendered scenes of the devastation of war.
Crowe has sprinkled his movie with an international flavour, casting several Turkish actors alongside Soviet-born Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion) and various compatriots who play Poms and Aussies (Jai Courtney’s native Australian accent finally proves he can actually act without having to wave a gun around).
Lit in golden hues and shot across Australia and Turkey, the film occasionally transports you to an exotic world.
But for the most part, The Water Diviner is merely a serviceable wartime story with basic acting and predictable character development. One can’t help but feel Crowe ought to stick to acting his heart out in other people’s superior movies.