THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE WATER DIVINER"
Own The Water Diviner now on Digital HD or on Blu-ray or DVD July 28th
When actors decide to direct, the results are usually either really good or really dreadful. The best of them have learned enough from working with other directors to understand how to set a tone and create a solid pace. The worst of them think that because they're good at one thing, they can be good at all things. Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut with The Water Diviner - on DVD and Blu-Ray July 28 – and proves himself very much up to the task.
Crowe also stars as Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer/water diviner whose three sons all died in the Battle of Gallipoli. The conflict has been over for several years, but their bodies have never been found on the battlefield, and therefore never returned home. Connor's wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie), can't handle the sorrow of this fact, so he makes the trek to Turkey to find them. Upon arriving, he checks into a hotel managed by a war widow named Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), who hasn't yet been able to tell her young son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades) that his father died in combat. Ayshe gives Connor a suggestion on how to sneak into Gallipoli. Once there, he encounters Lt. Col. Hughes (Jai Courtney), an ANZAC captain working with Turkish official Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) to arrange for location and burial of casualties. The former is not very conducive to allowing Connor to poke around for his sons, but the latter stands up for him. With a small window of time, Connor starts combing the battlefields.
There's a great deal of emotion inherent in this story, and Crowe maximizes it. The Water Diviner focuses intently on Connor's reasons for pursuing his mission. We come to realize that he embarks on this journey not only because his wife wanted him to, but because he is overcome with guilt. Having pushed the idea of nationalism on his sons, they cheerfully went off to war. And because he told them to always stick together, he realizes there is a strong possibility that all of them perished because one did. This kind of subtext gives the movie real power, as we wait to see not only whether Connor will find them, but also how he will react if he does. Crowe's typically intense, layered performance also helps significantly in this regard. As both actor and director, he clearly understands how to earn the audience's empathy. Some unexpected revelations in the third act ensure that The Water Diviner's conclusion makes a big impact.
The minor problems with the movie are all the fault of the screenplay, written by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios When it focuses on Connor's quest and his attempts to bargain with Hughes and/or Hasan, the script is very tight. When it focuses on the relationship between Connor and Ayshe, it's slightly less focused. There's a suggestion that he wants to play savior to the woman, who is being forced against her will to marry her late husband's brother. A few scenes develop this, yet there's insufficient time to make it blossom as fully as it should. Additionally, the story doesn't convincingly explain how Connor locates his sons' bodies; it almost comes off as magic. We know he can divine water, but we don't see him using any particular techniques on the battlefield. It comes off as an attempt to inject something mystical into the plot – a choice that doesn't entirely work.
Those are minor problems considering all the things The Water Diviner gets right. The film is well-acted, beautifully photographed (by late cinematographer Andrew Lesnie), and thematically rich. This is a story about tough subjects: loss, grief, guilt, and war. It is also about hope, specifically the hope of finding closure in a situation where it seems unlikely. Based on this touching debut, Russell Crowe may have a second whole career ahead of him.
( out of four)
The Water Diviner will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack on July 28. There are two bonus features included. The first, “The Making of The Water Diviner,” runs about twenty minutes and provides a lot of information about the movie's production and Crowe's intentions as a director. You'll get a good overview of how much effort went into making this period drama.
The second feature, “The Battle of Gallipoli” provides some historical context for the movie. Viewers generally unfamiliar with the battle will come away understanding what it was about and how The Water Diviner taps into it for its story. This is an especially commendable feature, one that has substance and helps provide more depth to some of the themes in the film.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are stellar. This is a dazzling-looking movie.
The Water Diviner is rated R for war violence including some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!