UK Release Date: 3rd April 2015
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Russell Crowe
Writer: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios
Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney, Ryan Corr, Ben O’Toole, James Fraser
Synopsis: An Australian father travels to Gallipoli in an attempt to retrieve the bodies of his sons, who were killed in the battle.
To many, film is a director’s medium. It is therefore no surprise that many of cinema’s most successful actors also enjoy stepping behind the camera. Oscar winner Russell Crowe is the latest to make the transition, with wartime drama The Water Diviner, which sees him on his home soil in Australia.
Joshua Connor (Crowe) is consumed by grief when the death of his three sons at the Battle of Gallipoli drives his wife to suicide. He makes a promise at her grave to bring their bodies home, which leads him to Lt-Col Hughes (Jai Courtney) who is organising the dead. Whilst in Istanbul, he also meets stoic Turk Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and stays in the hotel of a young widow named Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko).
Before it has even started, The Water Diviner already has a number of hurdles to leap over. The first is that its title is absolutely awful. No one is going to the cinema to see a film called The Water Diviner unless they already know what to expect. The second hurdle is the stigma of the “directed by and starring” label, which tends to make the star/director look a little egotistical, such as in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s horribly narcissistic Don Jon.
| "This is the Ottoman Empire. There is no such thing as before the war here."
Thankfully, Russell Crowe has an answer for those questions. The Water Diviner is not without flaws, but it’s a solid piece of work. In its opening stage, it paints a compellingly bleak portrait of the Battle of Gallipoli complete with deafening noise and convincing brutality. Crowe remains strong as he takes his central character to Turkey in order to track down the bodies of his sons, who are believed to have died in the battle.
Crowe, however, is a much better director here than an actor. His face is on screen for the majority of the film, but it feels as his brain is consistently positioned behind the camera. As a result, his performance lacks the emotional force it needs, particularly as The Water Diviner moves towards its revelatory finale. The visuals are, however, jaw-dropping with Crowe clearly familiar with his Aussie landscapes.
Even worse than Crowe’s performance is Olga Kurylenko, whose role as a widowed hotel owner is utterly thankless. Her romance of sorts with Crowe is horribly under-written and undermines both characters, particularly given the complete lack of chemistry between the two performers. Surprisingly, it’s the younger members of the cast who shine. Particular praise must go to Ryan Corr and Ben O’Toole, who get a genuinely tear-jerking flashback scene in the third act that is the film’s clear highlight.
| "He is the only father who came looking."
For all of its attempts to tug at the heart-strings, The Water Diviner ends up feeling rather empty when it isn’t on the battlefield. Crowe’s directorial duties leave little time for performance and there’s some lazy writing in his subplot with Kurylenko.
There is plenty of promise here, though, and Crowe could well have a great film in him. The Water Diviner, for all of its gloss and occasional heart, isn’t quite good enough.
Pop or Poop?
Russell Crowe makes an uneven first trip into the director’s chair with the terribly titled The Water Diviner.
Despite the film’s visual flair, the performances are not up to much and there’s far too much syrupy stuff desperate to make the audience cry.
There are standout moments, mostly from the younger cast and Crowe shows off an intriguing vision behind the camera, but this is far from a complete cinematic success.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.