Entertainment

Russell Crowe tugs at heartstrings in directorial debut

What It’s About

Three sons are missing in action and presumed dead after the devastating World War I Battle of Gallipoli. Four years later, a grief-stricken father leaves Australia on a quest to find answers in the compelling “The Water Diviner.”

In his feature directorial debut, New Zealand-born Russell Crowe displays strength in gritty war scenes and tenderness in touching family moments. ANZAC Army Corps (soldiers from Australia and New Zealand) lost 4,000 men fighting on behalf of England, while Turkey lost 7,000, at Gallipoli. He makes it personal.

Crowe portrays Joshua Connor, a farmer in the Victorian Outback who is also a diviner, someone who searches for water underground by using a special rod. The water symbolism is poured on thickly in the script, which was inspired by true events. Co-written by Aussies Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight, who are heavy-handed with cliches and create far too many coincidences to propel their tale.

Connor travels to Turkey seeking closure. This life-changing, perilous journey will help him find out what happened, but also thrust him in the belly of the beast and create more turmoil, At first, he i’s at odds with Maj. Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a Turkish officer he blames for the deaths of Edward (James Fraser), Henry (Ben O’Toole) and Arthur (Ryan Corr), but they develop an uneasy truce and help each other out.

Performances

Crowe is convincing as the dad on a mission, able to ride horseback, play cricket and thwart danger. Erdogan (“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) excels as a man who followed the call of duty, trying to adapt to the inherent conflicts in peacetime. Jai Courtney (“A Good Day to Die Hard”) also fares well as a British officer identifying graves.

While she is beautiful, Ukrainian-born Olga Kurylenko (“Oblivion”) was a dubious choice to play Ayshe, the widowed hotelier who predicts the future through thick Turkish coffee. She isn’t believable in the role.

Jacqueline McKenzie, who appeared with Crowe in his early hit “Romper Stomper,” plays his heartbroken wife Eliza.

What Works

The film is reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan” in some ways, and also invites comparisons to “Gallipoli,” Peter Weir’s 1981 gut-wrenching account of two sprinters on the front lines, both two of the best war movies ever made. This isn’t on the same level, but maintains our interest.

The movie is best when it tugs at the heartstrings, whether through an earnest young Turk, a lost soul damaged by the atrocities of the battlefield, an officer building bridges with former enemies, or a young widow overwhelmed by responsibilities.

The cinematography by Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie (“The Lord of the Rings’) is richly textured and contrasts the stark realities of war in flashback with an uncomfortable sojourn on foreign soil.

What Doesn’t Work

With so many weighty issues vying for attention, the movie eventually topples over from good intentions, with a clumsy romantic thread the most problematic.

If the point is that war is hell, and the sacrifices have consequences, OK, but it needs clarity. The action can be convoluted at times.

Yet, when it focuses on the casualties of war, emphasizing the price of prejudice, cultural skirmishes and bureaucratic red tape, the movie offers something worth saying.

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