An Australian man (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey in 1919 after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and find the remains of his three missing sons.
Russell Crowe’s directorial debut The Water Diviner is a well-meaning, surprisingly modest story of endurance, hope and forgiveness.
A grieving widower, Connor (Crowe) makes a solo trek to the battlefields of Gallipoli to find his missing soldier boys, and his heavyhearted mission is made more difficult by bureaucratic friendly fire. With the war newly ended, evacuating forces and their clean-up crews have little tolerance for the sombre Aussie onlooker “who can’t stay put”, who in turn finds an unlikely ally in the man who may well have had a hand in at least some of his sons’ deaths.
In the down-time between his investigations, he gets a beginners’ guide to Turkish culture and customs, courtesy of the gorgeous war widow and her cheeky son who run a rambling B&B. Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) overcomes her early frostiness to provide moral support - and unsubtle hints about dating rituals and sweetened coffee. They bond over a late night share plate of meze lit by a thousand candles, which says more about a gal’s intentions that any lump of sugar ever could.
Crowe hangs his movie a little too easily off clichés – especially in scenes of his blossoming relationship. There’s a general over-reliance on slow-motion, and noticeably abrupt gear changes between scenes; mind you, this will be less of an issue once The Water Diviner finds its eventual home on the Seven Network (the broadcaster was a co-financier and the script was penned by noted TV writers Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios), where it should play in perpetuity as an Anzac Day holiday movie - with commercial breaks.
Crowe’s character’s unique talent for water divining is a literary device that may work more effectively on the page; his strike rate is pretty unbelievable (he only alludes to failure, we never see it) – to the extent that his methodical ‘gift’ for seeking out lost causes makes him seem, at times, like a dusty superhero.
That said, Crowe is perfectly fine in the lead role, blending heartbreak and humility as a grieving man out of his depth, and incorrectly identifying his adversaries. Elsewhere, Michael Dorman and Dan Wyllie, in particular, are unconvincing as hoity toity plumby Brits, each playing the snooty symbols of obfuscation, in exaggerated performances that bellow to the back row. As the boys’ wailing mother Jacqueline Mackenzie gets short shrift; her grief runs the gamut of nervous knitting to suicide within the space of a single scene.
The standout is easily Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogan (Once Upon A Time In Anatoilia, Rhino Season), who, as the stoic/compassionate/guilty/weary Major Hasan gives The Water Diviner its potency; it’s hard to fault its reverent determination to look beyond the jingoism of the Anzac Legend, to make salient points about reconciliation, and the dangers of tilting at windmills.