Film Review: 'The Water Diviner'.

Crowe’s Water Diviner Loses Way in Drama Scope

Russell Crowe’s movie career will largely be defined by the era between 1997 and 2001. Inside these four years Crowe starred in 'L.A. Confidential' (1997), 'A Beautiful Mind' (2001) and perhaps the film that made him, 'Gladiator' (2000) with his portrayal of Maximus, the Roman general who rose up against his emperor’s corrupt son.
Of late, Crowe’s signature movie vehicles have not been without their critics. Both 'Robin Hood' (2010) and 'Noah' (2014) were not received well as supposed big-budget blockbusters.

With his latest venture, Crowe moves behind the camera and co-star's in his mainstream directorial debut in 'The Water Diviner'. The movie was commemoratively released to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, a conflict that led to the death of 60,000 Australian troops. 
The Water Diviner is set predominantly in the Australian outback, as a farmer who as a side calling, searches for water in the ground in the harsh, barren landscape of the Australian wilderness. ‘Connor’ as he is known, travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his missing – suspected fallen - sons.
Connor's journey is both a physical an emotional one as he tries to come to terms with the death of his three sons during battle, and the passing of his own wife who took her own life, in grief.

Watching this was a strange experience. On one hand, certainly pre-viewing I had no expectations for it, but having watched the movie, it wasn’t boring. Far from it in truth. Nevertheless, I never felt like what one was viewing was earth-shattering. It could have been of a wider scope and felt like it should have been grander.
There were some nice, if rather hammy elements to proceedings though. One couldn’t help but draw a correlation with Tom Cruise war yarn The Last Samurai. Depending on your view of that particular offering it may have steered one’s appreciation – or lack thereof – for the two hour showing.

Olga Kurylenko’s suppressed Ottoman wife holding out hope for her husband’s return - from the same battlefield Connor’s sons lost their lives in – was a tender but essentially emotionless gesture.
However Crowe, in his capacity as director, handled the relationship well by not allowing the two to embark into love. As least not until absolutely necessary.

The main issue I had with The Water Diviner was the relationship between the grieving father and Major Hasan, who it transpires was involved in one of his sons’ deaths. It felt rather far-fetched and unbelievable. This turned me as a viewer into somewhat of cynic.
Here we have Connor, befriending a man who he should hate, into almost part of the Major’s army, certainly during the latter stages. As a result the situation evolved with a flavour of a Stockholm syndrome, which whilst curious, felt unsuitable.   

When watching the trailer, I was initially concerned that having Connor make the pilgrimage to where his fallen sons rest, would make for emotional viewing no doubt, but that the journey in itself  could become monotonous for the viewer.
Consequently, what transpires during the movie is the notion of hope and this helps The Water Diviner maintain a swift pace without embarking on tedium. Without spoiling the outcome, the twist gives the movie a payoff that without it, may have led to a rather unsatisfactory joining-of-the-dots tale. Which for the average audience, may have been difficult to palate.

Arguably, Russell Crowe’s first trip into movie directing is certainly not a failure. It just feels too insignificant in scale to be anything more than a slightly forced drama. For a war film to succeed, it needs character driven development and it simply felt that the battle of Gallipoli was also too much of afterthought for The Water Diviner to pack a real punch.

Words and thoughts of Neil Leverett.