I’m a big fan of Russell Crowe the actor, and now I’m more or less a fan of Crowe the director, thanks to how assuredly he guides his directorial debut, The Water Diviner, a handsome and sometimes thrilling Aussie epic that will make you laugh, cry and think once again about how war of any kind is a terrible thing.
Crowe casts himself as the title character, an Aussie farmer who, well, can locate water anywhere. The film opens in 1919, not long after the end of World War I, and four years after Crowe’s three sons, who joined the ANZAC at the Battle of Gallipoli, were presumed dead. A sudden tragedy spurs Crowe to go to Turkey to search for his sons and bring their bodies home.
While Crowe does give us battlefield sequences and scenes of the sons fighting, this is not really a war film. Rather, it looks at how the war, and more specifically the actions at Gallipoli, affected individuals. This includes Crowe, a Turkish war widow (Olga Kurylenko) and her son, and a Turkish officer (Yilmaz Erdogan), both whom assist Crowe in his search.
And all three performers are excellent. Crowe effortlessly fills his farmer with sadness, regret, kindness and determination, while the beautiful Kurylenko (To the Wonder) makes her widow persuasively angry and independent. Erdogan does perhaps the best work, as both an officer maintaining dignity in the face of defeat, and as a man overcoming animosity to feel for Crowe’s plight.
One does need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief here, of course, namely at how easily Crowe gains access to Gallipoli, how easily he determines where his boys are and that he survives a brutal attack by Greek soldiers. But such narrative decisions by Crowe help make the movie be more than just some staid drama about a sad man searching for his sons.
If anything, the film is a feast for the eyes, both photographically, as Crowe has late Lord of the Rings cinematographer Andrew Lesnie light things gorgeously—lots of golden sunlight here—and from an architectural standpoint. For the ears as well, thanks to the wonderful score by Shine composer David Hirschfelder, which makes the proceedings feel all the more poignant. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 7/28/15