The last time Russell Crowe tried something new to this extent in a movie was when he decided to sing live for “Les Miserables.” It didn’t exactly work out so well for him, or for the audiences’ eardrums. Fear not, though, Crowe proves to be a much more competent director than singer. Competent, but still growing in his new role as “The Water Diviner” is passable on most fronts, but great in almost none.
Inspired by a true story, “The Water Diviner” follows Joshua Connor, an Australian father who travels to post-WWI Turkey to find his three sons who went missing after the Battle of Gallipoli. It comes stuffed with nearly all the classical post-war movie clichés: the mending of cultures through a love story or a friendship with an enemy solider, in this case both, sharing each other’s cultures and in the end realizing that we’re all not so different after all.
With all this serving as the main backbone of the story it is entirely predictable. There is a reason though these are tried and true methods in films like this, they work as is the case again here. So, despite the unoriginality, it’s difficult to say that “The Water Diviner” doesn’t prove entertaining.
But part of that entertainment comes in keeping track in your head of Crowe’s abilities as a director. Some times it’s cringe worthy, like every time he uses slow motion for dramatic effect. The technique sticks out like a sore thumb in the film, as it is only used to proclaim loudly to the audience that this is an important part.
However, there is one instance where you must tip your hat to Crowe. Warning, mild spoiler ahead. A flashback scene shows how two of the sons die during the battle. One is killed instantly and the other is bleeding out with the third injured by his side. The son who is bleeding out makes the most agonizing wail. While it is going you almost want to chastise Crowe; couldn’t he have picked a less annoying sound for this characters death? But after nearly a full minute of the wails, they stop, and you immediately know why. You almost miss the wail. It is the strongest evidence of Crowe’s abilities as a director.
Of course Crowe pulled double duty in the film, and he his usual reliable self as an actor, though his character is kind of flat. The beginning of the film shows him as a man who is finished with God after the presumed death of his sons, but the film puts him back in God’s path multiple times, but fails to address any change in the characters as a result.
Where as the relationship with Crowe’s lead and God goes missing in the final act of the film, the other relationships feel forced. The love story with Olga Kurylenko goes from cold natured to sincere love with the tiniest of pushes. Then there is the relationship between Connor and Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan). Hasan immediately helps Connor when he shows up at Gallipoli, but then he stops helping him because of his country’s own problems, but then he decides to help him again more because the story needs him to than any reason than we are shown. The only relationship that really works is with Connor and kids, including his sons and Kurylenko’s son.
Crowe has starred in a number of big budget, epic movies, and they certainly helped him make “The Water Diviner” what it is, but the film may have been a little too large for his first feature directing gig. He’s certainly showed some promise you wouldn’t object to him continuing behind the camera, just as long as it isn’t another musical.