Movie review: ‘The Water Diviner’
THE WATER DIVINER
Directed By Russell Crowe
Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Jai Courtney, Jacqueline McKenzie, Dylan Georgiades
Rated R, Drama, 111 minutes
Russell Crowe’s directing debut in “The Water Diviner” draws on the aftermath of the Battle of Gallipoli, which pitted the Ottoman Empire against an alliance between Britain and France during World War I.
Adapted from the novel by Andrew Anastasios and Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios, “The Water Diviner” focuses on the fictionalized character Joshua Connor (Crowe), a bereaved Australian father of three sons, all of whom died together as volunteer soldiers fighting alongside the British forces invading Turkey.
Four years later the untimely death of Connor’s grief-stricken wife prompts his journey to Turkey, where he hopes to retrieve his sons’ remains so he can bury them with their mother on his expansive farm.
Located somewhere in the Outback, the farm benefits from Connor’s ability to find water pooled 15 feet below ground. In Russell Crowe’s Charlie Rose interview, the actor claims his own father has the ability to find hidden water, thus increasing Crowe’s affinity for the role of Connor. Indeed, an opening sequence depicting the process of divining water and shoring up a well constitutes one of the film’s more arresting visuals.
While the film thinly draws its characters, Connor; an earnest, capable Aussie; is an idealized everyman calculated to tug on heartstrings.
Once in Turkey he forms an unexpected friendship with Turkish Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), even though Hasan led the attacks that ultimately killed Connor’s sons. The film makes the point (none too subtly) that, while positioned on opposite sides of geopolitical interests, Connor and Hasan are both steadfast, loyal and determined men of character who would be the best of friends under different circumstances.
Connor’s journey also acquaints him with Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a Caucasian-looking Turkish widow who operates the hotel where he stays during his adventures in Turkey. She’s in need of a white knight, even if he’s an Australian. She and Connor’s chaste bond grows during each of their brief, emotionally charged encounters. Kept on a back burner their romance completes Connor’s realization that Turks are good people too.
Released on the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli invasion, the film sets out to paint the Turks as victims caught in a no-win situation. Crowe claims he wanted to portray the horrors of war. In flashback we see ordinary young men suffer horrendous injuries or forced to commit unspeakable deeds. Notably, the film, which casts the Greek militia as thugs, overlooks the Armenian Genocide carried out by the Turks during this period and also targeted Greeks, Assyrians and Christians. Altogether, somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million Armenians were systematically murdered, though this atrocity is deemed a mismatch for the film’s agenda.
The vanilla story is interesting, if not riveting. We sense the concessions made to send particular messages and the opportunities lost to judge for ourselves. Crowe’s film is pleasing enough, but history is a harsh mistress.
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