WATER DIVINER, THE
When four years after the battle of Gallipoli his wife Eliza (Jacqueline Mackenzie) begs him to bring back their sons, Aussie father of three, Connor (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey to search for them - or their remains. En route, he encounters Turkish war widow Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) and Turkish Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), both of whom are surprisingly helpful. Not so helpful is British Captain Charles Brindley (Dan Wyllie). (Inspired by a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Hope is a necessity where I come from, says Russell Crowe's Connor, whose journey to Gallipoli and beyond is personal business - to find and bring his missing sons back to Australia. War, bravery and loss is the subject matter of Crowe's directorial debut and the film delivers on multiple levels, depicting the horrors and futility of war and the strong instinct that drives a man to keep his family together. There are many interesting aspects to the story described in Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastosios' s screenplay, the key one being that it tells a different WWI story, bringing together men who previously fought against each other on the battle front.
The strength of the film is its personal nature and Crowe convincingly embodies a man whose decency and love of family, propels him on a soul-searching journey of discovery in search of redemption. While the war scenes and those related to loss feel real, the romance subplot involving Olga Kurylenko smacks of contrivance. This is the film's greatest problem - the lack of cohesion between its depiction of reality and fabrication.
The early establishment scenes in the trenches of Gallipoli are hard-hitting and tough to watch: young men thrown into the harsh reality of war, incessant gunfire and lethal hand-to-hand combat. It is four years later and we meet Connor, searching for water on the arid land in North West Victoria. We watch him follow his instincts until he is satisfied that water lies deep beneath the red, dusty soil. It is with the same instinct that against the odds, Connor ventures to Turkey in bid to find his sons, presumed killed, the words of his wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) 'You can find water but not your own children,' ringing in his ears.
By painting the backdrop with such clarity, when Connor reaches Turkey, we understand his compulsion to join the army effort to identify the tens of thousands of soldiers killed at Gallipoli (Jai Courtney is excellent as the commanding soldier). Yilmaz Erdogan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is the film's strongest presence as Major Hasan, formerly the enemy and who is now using his knowledge of the area to help. Understandably, there are mixed emotions and passions run high. The tense dialogue between Erdogan and Crowe form some of the best scenes.
Kurylenko is beautiful and serene as Ayshe, a single mother who measures a man by how much he loves his children. There is good chemistry between Crowe and Kurylenko but the scene in which a hundred lit candles suddenly appear is ridiculous. Steve Bastoni is a wonderful surprise as Ayshe's opportunistic brother-in-law with whom she runs the small, local hotel and Dylan Georgiades, in his screen debut, is superb (and nicely directed) as Ayshe’s young son Orhan.
There are many pleasant incongruities, such as Connor's teaching Turkish soldiers how to play cricket on a train, and some light touches, like the notion that everything in Turkey is decided by coffee. The heart of the tale however, rests with Connor's unswerving commitment to find his sons - dead or alive. For this, he uses the same strong instinct for which he successfully searched for water in arid Australia. Whether you accept this notion literally or symbolically is up to you.
Dedicated to the many lost and nameless soldiers who died in battle at Gallipoli, The Water Diviner brings history alive, while making it personal. The fact that the story does not play out as expected is a pleasant surprise.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A hundred years after the events portrayed here, the wounds of that first World War are as raw as ever, and as ever, a personal story from the war will still resonate strongly. There have been hundreds already told, but given there were 37 million dead or wounded (as the film's end title cards inform), there are quite a few more stories still to be told on screen. Each one is unique, and perhaps that's what attracted Russell Crowe to make his directing debut, the unusual story of a father whose uncanny ability to detect water also serves him in his quest for the remains of his sons. What's more, it's an iconic Australian character & story.
Crowe also stars as Connor, the iconic character mentioned above, a man of the land, honest, hardworking, devoted to his family. But it's only after a dramatic evening plea from his wife Eliza (Jacqueline Mackenzie) four years after the battle of Gallipoli that he is stirred to go and try to find their remains.
In true hero's journey style, he encounters many hurdles and considerable personal danger; but he won't give up. This quiet determination (of an important private objective) is well managed in the screenplay and in Crowe's direction and performance, serving as the film's emotional and moral backbone.
Yet it's Yilmaz Erdogan as the Turkish Major Hasan who steals the film's acting honours in my view, creating a wonderfully complex character who is both soldier and humanist, killer and forgiver, world weary and idealistic all at once. His is a wholly formed, totally visible and approachable character. The fact that he's a somewhat sympathetic character - despite his actions in the battle - may rankle with some, but that's how we are.
The film provides rare insight into the process of the challenging post-war identification and dignified burial systems that we now take for granted.
A couple of casting surprises turn out well: Dan Wyllie's very British, very unlikeable Capt. Charles Brindley is a wonderful creation that stops short of caricature yet captures the insufferable nature of his kind. Perhaps the biggest (pleasant) surprise is Steve Bastoni as Omer, the brother anxiously waiting to take his missing brother's wife, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) as his second wife.
On the whole, the film works as intended, although some choices are questionable, such as the treatment (and casting) of Ayshe's character. The overdone candle-lit dinner scene a deux with Connor near the end is a jarring intrusion of Hollywoodsation .... And some story jumps are a bit clumsy. Ayshe's 10 year old son is a marvel ... or is he too much of a marvel with his superb English and smooth ways. Perhaps the biggest ask of the audience is to have us accept his ability to locate his sons' remains at Gallipoli by some mysterious inner sense .... This is crucial to the film yet the manner of its presentation is rather perfunctory.
The amount of brilliant talent surrounding Crowe ensures the film is creatively and technically outstanding, from Andrew Lesnie's cinematography (look at his eye-lights!), David Hirschfelder's wonderfully supple score and Matt Villa's story-driven editing, to Chris Kennedy's vital contribution in design.
If the film doesn't sweep you away, it's perhaps because the film conveys a palpable sense of respect and honour for Australia's tragic role, its enormous sacrifice and endless pain; 'through the particular to the universal'. But there is no question that Crowe can direct.
Email this article
WATER DIVINER, THE (M)
CAST: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Cem Yilmaz, Ryan Corr, Jai Courtney, Isabel Lucas, Jacqueline McKenzie, Steve Bastoni, Damon Herriman, Deniz Akdeniz, Dan Wytllie, Yilmaz Erdogan, Megan Gale, Michael Dorman, Robert Mammone, Dylan Georgiades
PRODUCER: Troy Lum, Andrew Mason, Keith Rodger
DIRECTOR: Russell Crowe
SCRIPT: Andrew Anastasios, Andrew Knight
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie
EDITOR: Matt Villa
MUSIC: David Hirschfelder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Kennedy
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Entertainment One
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2014