THE WATER DIVINER
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for CompuServe ShowBiz. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director: Russell Crowe
Screenwriter: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios
Cast: Russell Crowe, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Jai Courtney, Ryan Corr
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 4/20/15
Opens: April 24, 2015
For his directing debut, Russell Crowe chose a tale first attempted by Peter Weir in that helmsman’s 1981 film “Gallipoli”—about two sprinters who go from Australia to Turkey to fight in the disastrous battle of Gallipoli. But Crowe adds a patina of romance and sentimentality while showing the movie audience that war is hell. “The Water Diviner” is an old-fashioned Hollywood treatment in which the principal character’s excuse for going to Turkey four years after the battle of Gallipoli is to recover the bodies of his three sons, none of whom returned home to Australia and who are therefore presumed dead.
There is an element of mysticism in this tale penned by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios. Crowe performs in the role of Joshua Connor, a water diviner, i.e. a person with the psychic ability to find water amid an expanse of parched land using only a divining rod, which requires that its handler have the talent for knowing exactly what partial acre of dirt conceals pools of water. With that talent, Connor presumes that he can go to Istanbul (Constantinople at the time) and somehow locate the three bodies of his boys despite their being allegedly tossed into mass graves and doused with limestone. He may also have the grandiose thought that he can help the healing between Australia and New Zealand and their former enemy in Ottoman Turkey. (Australia took part in the war to help protect British interests in the Middle East, which were threatened by Ottoman Turkey.) He finds himself both treasured by some of the locals for his courage and persistence as “the only father who returned to find his sons” and treated as an enemy, unwanted in the local hotel by the innkeeper, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) and especially by the British who are hanging around to decide which part of the now-dissolved Ottoman Empire should go to Britain and which to France and Italy, which also want pieces of “the sick man of Europe.”
Crowe opens the movie dramatically with scenes from the battle, demonstrating the trench warfare that was the fashion of the times, a fight lost by the Anzac powers of Australia and New Zealand, the battle lost but the war eventually won. Sailing to Istanbul after the suicide of his depressed wife, Connor is directed by a mischievous boy (Orhan) Dylan Georgiades) to the hotel of his mother, Ayshe, whose husband was killed in the war and who is being petitioned by her brother-in-law to marry him lest his family be humiliated. The affection between Aysha and the under-playing Australian simmers but before any obligatory consummation, Connor is off to Gallipoli where he runs into Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) who may have been responsible for the execution of at least one of Connor’s sons. From there, he finds himself caught in a battle between the Greeks and the Turks, who appear not quite sure that the war is over.
Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography is stunning, putting this film already in competition with Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,” which like “The Water Diviner” is a period piece that informs us of the culture of the times. In the Turkey of 1919, for example, women appear to wear modest head-covering only when they walk outdoors: this was the period before Mustafa Kemal, the father of modern Turkey, became the head of government under a nationalist upsurge, declaring the veil, the fez, and the non-Latin alphabet to be illegal. (Boy, do we need him today!)
This is a big-budget movie that proves Crowe as adept in directing as he is in performing. He has been fortunate to assemble an ensemble of talented mates for his cast, making “The Water Diviner” a picture that could be hailed by lovers of war movies and sentimentalists alike. It will also punctuate the holiday of April 24th, the anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli, which is its opening day in the States.
Rated R. 111 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+