The Water Diviner is an enjoyable piece of historical fiction and a solid debut for director Russell Crowe.
Taking place in the wake of the Battle of Gallipoli, one Australian family in particular is devastated by the invasion, having lost all three children to the battle. When the husband, Connor, is left with nothing to fight for at home, he embarks on a journey to Turkey himself to try to bring home the bodies of his three boys. Encountered with a cultural divide and an army that doesn’t want him there, Connor’s journey must take unexpected paths to find his sons and the peace of mind that comes with it.
Now, if I step back and start poking holes at The Water Diviner I could find a lot to probably complain about. Connor’s luck is incredible, his access unfathomable and the romantic subplot that runs through the film feels forced. This also avoids the possible magical powers/connection that Connor has with his children. But for all those possible weak spots, the film doesn’t make a grand spectacle of them, it just hopes that you will roll with it. The script isn’t just a bit messy, it is also a bit tone-deaf, as it bounces between light-hearted attempts to help you forget the gruesome side of war, only to throw you right back into the war without a moment to breathe. There is also a cute sidekick kid subplot that walks a fine line, which almost falls, and there are a few bursts of raunchy humor out of nowhere, but Crowe somehow keeps it all together for the most part.
A big reason the film works as well as it does is because it’s pretty gorgeous to look at. Outside a few bad CGI fire shots, the film looks down right amazing most of the time. Whether it is the streets of Istanbul, the Outback of Australia, or the coast of Gallipoli, Crowe and, the now late, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie create some beautiful shots. Beyond that though, all the lighting and interiors are wonderfully shot as well, bringing the period to life with vibrant ease.
The Water Diviner’s non-political stance also suits the film quite well, as we get to view both sides of the conflict, as well as the cultures. There is no judgement being passed here and I have a hard time imagining a US studio allowing a film like this to be made; being so impartial to history the way The Water Diviner is. One of the film’s main characters is an officer of the Turkish army, Major Hasan, and while I have a hard time believing any one of his status in real life would be as helpful to Connor as he is, it allows the film an avenue to explore the Turkish side of this story which I am more than grateful for. It’s only in this film’s final act that I think it acts a bit too much of the viewer to get onboard with when it comes to Connor and Hasan.
Crowe stars as Connor, and it is a quality and familiar part for the actor. Strong, quiet, with occasional bursts of emotion, Crowe’s been here before, but he does it quite well. He does get to show off a softer side here, and it suits him well, we just don’t get to see a lot of that from him. Olga Kurylenko stars as the romantic Turkish innkeeper and deserves some credit for making the ludicrous plot point almost work. The character wasn’t the most well conceived, but Kurylenko makes the absolute most out of it. Jai Courtney might give my favorite performance of his as an Australian officer tasked with ID’ing all of his country’s dead at Gallipoli, and I found myself disappointed he just disappears halfway through the film. Yilmaz Erdogan is a respectable and leader like presence as Hasan and his performance also helps elevate a relationship that I don’t think is that believable in the slightest.
With The Water Diviner, Crowe overcomes a lot of pitfalls to make an engaging historical fiction piece. Based on supposedly true events, I have a hard time believing much of what we saw being fact. Still, the script somehow sticks together thanks to some excellent filmmaking and fine acting from Russell Crowe and his team. The Water Diviner may not be the most elegant storytelling, but it comes together in the end to be an entertaining enough picture.