There will always be untold stories of unsung heroes that do uplifting things. Sure, sometimes they are fictionalized characters telling a dramatized story of true-ish events, but when done precisely, you forget that you’re being forced to feels empathy for someone that never existed. The Water Diviner is such a story, but it drowns in the turbulent sea of its own inadequacies.
Connor (Russell Crowe) has a preternatural ability to read the ground. It speaks to him, tells him a story, and most of the time, leads him to deposits of water hidden underground. Digging holes (for wells) has gone from being an occupational necessity to being needed in his personal life. After his grief-stricken wife takes her own life, he goes on a quest to find the bodies of his presumed dead children. The war has come to an end, so Connor travels to Turkey to try to find his sons in Gallipoli. Gallipoli is currently off limits, so Connor stays at an inn while he figures out a way to get there. The also recently widowed innkeeper, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), is reluctant to help him, but starts to change her feelings for him. She suggests a way of getting to Gallipoli, but the next obstacle is getting ANZAC Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes (Jai Courtney) to help him. Hughes
Hughes let’s Connor search the battle ground while Hughes tries to get more information about their fallen soldiers from enemy Major Hasan (Yılmaz Erdoğan). Through some otherworldly detective skills that would make Sherlock Holmes jealous, Connor is able to find the place where two of his sons died. One is still at large, and Hasan tells him that he was taken prisoner and might still be alive. Connor decides to follow Hasan on his way home and ends up learning that there are no winners or losers in war, only more victims.
The story might be about war, but the true battle pits Russell Crowe “the actor” against Russell Crowe “the director”. Russell Crowe, the actor, we know too well. He is always a powerful presence and delivers a strong, scene-stealing performance, even if he is forced to sing (not in this film though). Crowe, the actor, is one of the few assets The Water Diviner, and it uses his tender/tough guy persona and signature pensive-stare-into-oblivion gaze. Russell Crowe the director is new to the scene, but you can tell he has picked up some cinematic tricks from his acting alter ego. Unfortunately, all of the techniques he employed have been overused–even in films he’s starred in, but some techniques were just completely misused. One example is when a flashback is immediately followed by a weird, unexplainable glimpse to a scene of the future. This just completely confuses the narrative and should never be done, at least not in that order. Just like Crowe the director, Crowe the actor wasn’t as refined at his craft when he was first starting out, but what they did both show us in their beginnings was promise. Russell Crowe may have dug himself into a hole, but at least he proved his well hasn’t run dry.
No matter what side of the battlefront you’re on, the true enemy to every side was the film’s writing. The story is one we have heard before, replace the name of the countries and characters and you have a moralistic anti-war film. The film’s script doesn’t do any favors to the development of storylines or characters, let alone to serve as a memorial to Australia/New Zealand’s World War I casualties. If anything, it presents a very one-sided, and sometimes caricatured, view of the continent post-war and its many inhabitants
A diviner is a person who can predict the future, but that doesn’t excuse why The Water Diviner was predictable and lacking fluidity. A strong performance by Russell Crowe wasn’t enough to save this film about redemption. An unexceptional first time at directing shows a potential for greatness, but not enough to make this film functional.
RATING: ★★★★(4/10 stars)