Released just in time for Anzac Day, an Australian national holiday commemorating veterans, Russell Crowe stars in and directs “The Water Diviner,” a tragic and heartfelt historical epic set just after World War I. Crowe plays the titular water diviner, Connor, whose sons are presumed dead after fighting for the Australian army in the Battle of Gallipoli. When the pain of losing their sons becomes too much to bear, his wife commits suicide. Left with nothing, Connor travels to the Ottoman Empire in the hopes of finding his sons. Even as a low-budget movie, “The Water Diviner” keeps the viewer captivated through its intense action sequences, heartfelt story and superb acting.
Upon watching the opening battle scene, you can easily see that this film is not blessed with a gargantuan Hollywood budget. However, this is not to say that the production value is cheap. The sheer scope of a film that the producers are trying to capture makes it understandable to have a few fake-looking fires and explosions. The action sequences are still every bit as convincing as any Hollywood war movie to anyone with an imagination. The stunts are realistic and the actual fight scenes are believable, not to mention incredibly violent.
Even if unconvincing special effects are a deal-breaker for you, come for the acting. Crowe delivers as a heartbroken and rugged yet compassionate and naive stranger in a strange land. Playing a man who has suffered through what he has is a tough role to capture, but Crowe is believable. You will feel as sorry for him as you felt for Tom Hanks at the end of “Castaway” when Wilson floats away. Olga Kurylenko once again plays a generically ethnically ambiguous-looking woman, Ayshe, who you would never guess is an Ottoman character if they had never told you. But she is compelling as a mother and dutiful widow. And she shows considerable skill in displaying anger when her life is disrupted by a bumbling foreigner who can’t stay put.
As well as starring in the film, Crowe has the opportunity to direct. Besides making himself look alluring, Crowe’s directing produces an aesthetically beautiful film. Featured are many stunning landscape shots of Turkey as well as dream-like scenes within the Blue Mosque, which highlight the power of the once-mighty empire. The film also features recurring ethereal visions that Connor has of whirling dervishes. I found this to be an effective device for representing the spark of hope that makes him keep going, despite the glaring odds that he faces. These visions also served to give the film a mystical and almost nostalgic vibe.
One directorial and writing aspect that is the most thoughtful part of the film, and what makes this film stand out from other war movies, is the scene in the immediate aftermath of battle, showing men from both sides of the battle laying with stab wounds and their guts shot out, yelping like puppies, in the dark, dying. This is an image that is largely overlooked in most war movies, and it added a thoughtful aspect to this film to show the realities of war and that not everyone dies a quick and glorious death.
There were a few things I couldn’t look over. There were several filler scenes occupied with nonverbal montages, with music playing over the characters speechlessly mouthing a conversation and expressing empathic feelings. These scenes could have been occupied with meaningful dialogue, adding considerable depth to these characters. But instead, all you get out of the scene is, “these two characters got a lot closer after this conversation.” In addition to these lazy scenes, it bothered me that everyone whom Connor runs into in the Ottoman Empire happens to speak English, just for the sake of convenience. It was not a big deal, but it did detract from the authenticity of the film.
Despite a few lazy scenes, “The Water Diviner” is an engaging film that will tug at your heartstrings. I recommend it to anyone who likes thoughtful drama, thrilling fight scenes and Russell Crowe.
Rating: 3 stars