God bless Russell Crowe. He’s trying and he means it, using his clout to get a film about Australian war victims made in an industry that just wants him to make Gladiator 2, let alone an audience that may be a tough sell. He even went ahead and directed it himself, but unfortunately The Water Diviner is not an Australian Saving Private Ryan.
Well digger Joshua Connor (Crowe) lost his three sons in the Battle of Gallipoli. Four years later there’s nothing left for him to do but find their bodies and give them a proper burial. Connor travels to Turkey, stays at an out of the way hotel run by Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), her father and her son, and enlists the Turkish military’s help in locating his boys.
There have been far more movies about D-Day than there have about Gallipoli. Or maybe there’ve been as many Gallipoli movies in Australia that didn’t make it to the States. I only know the two, this one and Peter Weir’s film, but I can imagine it is as significant an event for that country. I’d suspect there are endless perspectives of society and individual families dealing with the losses and fallout of this one battle, as this film focuses on one father’s search for closure.
Much of this impact is distracted by a surprising number of technical mistakes for a major film released by a studio. Any nighttime battle sequence, which happens to be the most pivotal moment of the film, is distorted by digital noise, because the scene wasn’t lit enough for the digital camera. There is no shortage of gruesome war violence, but the most harrowing scene is buried underneath a screen full of white specks. Daytime scenes have a yellowy hue that doesn’t seem real or stylized. You can even see makeup visible on the actors, which is distracting when the characters are in battle. They weren’t making themselves camera ready before the war.
The narrative has some pacing issues too. A three month jump is jarring, although gives you a sense of the time passage we take for granted in adventure movies. It took Connor three months to sail to Turkey and nothing interesting probably happened while he waited three months in a cabin. The ebbs and flows of his battlefield quest and his relationship with Ayshe and her family are uneven too, but the battle scenes would come to life were it not for technical issues. The introductory scene of Connor digging a well, for which he earns the film’s title, is plenty exciting itself, so the material is potentially there to make the whole movie that exciting.
The Water Diviner is about something. It avoids the “important movie” trap of preaching and moping about how terrible this historical event was. That speaks for itself. It’s just the film also avoids the high production values those other “important movies” have to illustrate their preachy messages.
In conclusion, I had a high school English teacher named John Devine. I would like Russell Crowe to play The John Deviner next.