Movie review: Crowe is excellent in the uneven ‘Water Diviner’
Russell Crowe won an Oscar acting, broke eardrums as a singer and now the budding Renaissance man is giving directing a whirl with the Aussie war drama “The Water Diviner.” He’s not a total success, but you won’t hear him blaming his leading man because it’s him in the title role of an Australian farmer traveling to Turkey in search of his three sons who went missing during the Gallipoli Campaign.
Joshua Connor is called the Diviner because he has an uncanny knack for finding the impossible, like water in the arid outback. But the quest to find his kids — dead or alive — might not be so easy. And the script — from Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight — exploits Joshua’s quest with melodramatic flourishes that might make your eyes mist, then roll.
The fact-based film starts out in Turkey in 1915 depicting a particularly bloody battle that leaves nearly 10,000 Ottoman and Australian soldiers dead. Then it flashes forward four years to a modest farm in the Outback, where Crowe’s Joshua lives with his grief-stricken and ill-fated wife (Jacqueline McKenzie). Soon, Joshua finds himself on a monthlong boat trip to Turkey, where a precocious boy (Dylan Georgiades, a little ham!) leads him to the inn run by his beautiful mother (Olga Kurylenko).
You can figure out where this is headed from the get-go. Before that happens, though, Joshua will make his way to the Gallipoli battlefield, now just “one big grave” and filled with collapsed bunkers, grenades, bullets and bodies. Flashback scenes show the brutal battle that was devastating for the Allied forces.
Because Joshua is the “only father who came looking,” an army colonel (Jai Courtney) reluctantly helps him search the 8-square-mile grounds. So does an Ottoman major with the nickname “Hassan the Assassin” (a terrific Yilmaz Erdogan), who is anxious to assuage his guilt. The mutual respect and friendship the two men develop is awkward but endearing. Erdogan and Crowe have a good dynamic that the script finds a way to exploit. Heavy-handed are the themes of personal struggle and the wide-reaching casualties of war.
Crowe gives a performance that runs the gamut of emotion. He’s patient, giddy, dejected, frustrated, elated, embarrassed. It’s nice to see after the stinkers — “Winter’s Tale” and — he’s been in lately. From the director’s chair, Crowe delivers a film — shot in Australia and Turkey — that is gorgeous to look at and uses natural surroundings, such as the Blue Mosque, to full effect. The mood is certainly there.
Problems arise with tone and pacing. Engrossing in parts, the story has a tendency to drag, be repetitive and rely on gimmicks, from the fortune-telling coffee cups to Joshua’s sixth sense for suddenly finding things. Then there’s some melodrama and predictability involving subplots with the hot innkeeper and her son. Although that part feels contrived, Crowe has a genuine attachment to the movie because it’s a very Australian story that honors families who have lost a loved one to war.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow her on Twitter at @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“THE WATER DIVINER,” rated R for war violence, including some disturbing images. Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney, Dylan Georgiades. Grade: B-.