THE WATER DIVINER, the big budget Australian directorial debut from big Rusty, Russell Crowe. A stunning looking film set in post WWI Australia, Gallipoli and Turkey. Epic in scale and ambition the movie is releasing officially on Boxing Day around Australia with previews this weekend commencing tomorrow, Friday 19th December 2014. Salty Popcorn had the honour a few weeks back of standing on the Red Carpet and interviewing the entire cast and other celebs as they arrived for the premiere. Make sure you suss our interviews HERE. THE WATER DIVINER is releasing from eOne Australia, is rated M and runs for 111mins (curious – was this in honour of 11.11??). Now sit back and enjoy Kernel Andrew’s review of the movie……all the best…..JK.
There have been many movies made about World War I and many movies made about Gallipolli from both the Australian and Turkish (Çanakkale as it is in known to the Turkish people) perspectives. Next year is the centenary of this campaign and whilst it is a poignant and somber commemoration here in Australia it must also be remembered that the Turks lost close to seven times as many men during the Gallipoli campaign. A sobering loss of life indeed especially for an Australian who has really only examined this nation forming campaign from “our” perspective. This should not take away from the traditions of Gallipoli. It was the crucible according to our own national story where the Australian nation was forged. Where the tradition of the ANZAC was formed and came to the fore. But there is more to this story than patriotic fervor and as we distance ourselves yearly from the tragedies that befell the world during World War I it is perhaps better for us to focus not on “legend” but on the deeply human stories that transpired during this particularly awful period.
Russell Crowe (who really needs no introductions) directs and stars in THE WATER DIVINER. It is a World War I drama about a man traveling through Turkey in search of his missing sons and ultimately himself. This movie is Crowe’s directorial debut. It is big in scope, brawny and a movie with a very big heart. In fact it seems that Crowe has been able to tap a large reserve of symbolism for this particular movie which is sprinkled throughout the movies three acts. What is heartening to see is that the story is not told just from an Australian perspective. But Crowe is able to explore large themes of mutual tragedy, cultural empathy, family bonds and for a time good old-fashioned storytelling.
The opening scenes of this movie may strike some viewers as odd and unconventional for an “Australian” war movie. We see the engagement at Lone Pine from behind enemy lines and from the Turkish perspective as the Australians charge their lines. As this visually stunning opening plays out we have a scene which juxtaposes the Australian outback. Here we meet Crowe’s character Joshua Connor for the first time. We see him digging for wells. He is using the age old technique of “water-divining” (which “relies” on the practitioner’s psychic gift for locating water beneath the ground).
We quickly learn that Joshua and his wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) have suffered the ultimate loss. Their three sons, Arthur (Jack Patterson, later Ryan Corr), Henry (Ben Norris/Ben O’Toole) and Edward (Aidan Smith/James Fraser), have not returned from the war. It is more than Eliza can bear and early on she succumbs to this despair. Making a vow to his wife Connor decides it’s time to bring his boys home.
It takes Connor three months to arrive in Constantinople, which at this point in its history post-WWI was under the control of the British Empire. There are some beautiful panning shots which shows this ancient city in all its majesty. The city is overwhelming to a man who does not speak any Turkish but luckily for Joshua he meets a young street-smart urchin Orhan (Dylan Georgiades). Orhan escorts him to his mother’s hotel (by stealing his bag precipitating a comical foot chase). The hotel is run by his mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), and conservative uncle Omer (Steve Bastoni).
The relationship between the three is the film’s emotional heart. It is unfortunately quite heavy handed and schmaltzy. This is not the fault of any of the three actors who all do a sterling job. It is just that the script and the paint by numbers – norming, storming then forming of the relationship is a bit too over the top. Ayshe does assist Joshua in getting to Gallipoli after he is rebuffed by the British. Travelling with a local fisherman Joshua arrives at Gallipoli to locate his sons. All he has to go on is a diary from one of his boys. He has noted the location and time of death and he is hoping with this information he will be able to locate their remains.
There are some great moments here with Kernel Hughes (Jai Courtney), who is coordinating the recovery effort with Turkish war veterans Major Hasan and Sgt. Jemal (The Turkish veteran actors Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz who some may have seen in the excellent Turkish dramedy VIZIONTELE).
The scenes between the four actors are fascinating as is the time we spend around Lone Pine whilst Joshua “divines” for his sons. The acting and cinematography’s underlying problem I began to detect. Once again it is the script (written by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios). It relies on some truly stereotypical lines and an awful lot of coincidence which I guess was intended to make the movie “otherworldly” but which seems too convenient. When only two of the boys are located on the battle field, Joshua learns that his third son has been taken prisoner and so sets out to find him, dead or alive. Here we travel with Connor, Hasan and Jemal into the heart of Turkey. Some great landscaped vistas and we learn a little more about the Turkish struggle for their own independence post Ottoman Empire. This breathes new life into the movie but it soon runs out of puff.
There are some great uses of “The Arabian Nights” motif which is a book which Connor read to his children. This is woven throughout the picture but it is given too short a shrift where I believe it could have been developed considerably. Some of the scenes from the battle which killed two of his sons are done very well. This includes a particularly brutal pitched battle inside the Turkish trenches. There are not enough of those moments though. As stated Erdogan, Yilmaz and Courtney are fine in support of Crowe. Kurylenko is also quite solid although the longer the movie moves along the more she descends into cliché.
Technically the picture looks amazing. Crowe through his travels would have met a lot of top-tier tech talent. Andrew Lesnie who was the principle DOP brings all his experiences from LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT. Also costume designer Tess Schofield should be given a lot of credit for bringing a real authenticity to the clothes of the era.
But for me the script really let this particular movie down. All of the other ingredients are there to make a fantastic visual and aural feast, it is just this time the proof really isn’t in the pudding
Crowe should definitely try his hand again on the other side of the camera. There is a lot of interesting depths to this beloved New Zealander.