I had the pleasure of seeing The Water Diviner, which also happens to be Russell Crowe's directorial debut. Now, because I have not read the book (shame, shame...I know) I am reviewing this strictly through the artistic medium of film! The Water Diviner is set in Australia in 1915 and is about a farmer, named Joshua Connor, who travels to Turkey in search of his three sons (Edward, Henry and Art) who served in the ANZACS and went missing during the Battle of Gallipoli.
As a farmer in a dry, dusty Australian terrain, Connor is used to digging deep holes to retrieve water in the midst of draught. The film introduces Connor's character, relentlessly digging a hole in search of water. Connor has seemingly been distracting himself from his son's fate with his farming but is driven to find his sons after his wife, distraught with years of grief, commits suicide.
He travels to Turkey, on his way to where his sons went missing, where a little boy named Orhan, persuades him to come stay in his family's charming hotel. Orhan's mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) helps run the hotel and is wary and standoffish towards Connor when she learns he is Australian (there is still friction between the Turkish and Australians at this time) and she has lost her husband in the war. Along the way he also encounters a high-ranking member of the Turkish military, Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), as well as other members of the ANZACS, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes (Jai Courtney) who take pity on him and help him along the way. "He is the only father who came looking" Major Hasan offers to Colonel Hughes.
Technical stuff: For his directorial debut, I thought Crowe did a good job. I will say that, though I don't know the budget of the film, it had a small budget feel to it. The scenes involving a sandstorm and a fire on a set of railroad tracks definitely looked computer generated (especially the fire). Look, I know you can't create a real-life sandstorm with a couple of fans and some dirt...I'm just saying it was a tad distracting.
A special mention to the beautiful cinematography. It. Was. Beautiful. From the rich, reds of the dusty Australian landscape to the lush jewel tones and architectural shots in the Turkish cities, it was dazzling. Apparently, Russell Crowe (or his editor?) LOVES closeups...some of them lasted a bit long, but that's ok, lots of emotion to show...
Performances: The performances were also good. Crowe's Connor is definitely a character plagued with the heavy emotional and psychological sorrow of his son's absence and his wife's suicide. And though this is revealed through Crowe's performance, I do think we could have seen more opportunities for his inner struggle to come out.
Crowe's Connor was wary of the Turkish at first (especially Major Hasan) but as time passes, he and Major Hassan actually develop a sort of friendship, so Connor did have a decent character arc. Also, it was great to see Jai Courtney in a "good guy" role (his mustache definitely deserved its own end credit) and though Courtney's Lt. Hughes tried to get rid of Connor at first, he takes pity on him and lets him search with the ANZACS, so his character also had a bit of an arc, which is nice.
Major Themes: A dedicated father searching for his missing sons to either: 1. hopefully find them alive or 2. at least take their bones home to be buried with their mother, is deeply moving. Connor is naturally a persistent, committed man. His introductory scene in digging for water during a draught is symbolic of the same dedication he has for finding his lost sons after they have been missing for so long. Connor lets no obstacle keep him from searching and he is clearly motivated by his love for his sons; the father/son relationship is a unique one that is not often showcased in films, so for that I give it a solid thumbs up. In reminiscing about his sons, the tender bond shown between them as brothers is also very touching.
Along with the friendship that forms between Connor and Major Hasan, Ayshe and Connor also discover that, though they come from two different cultures (two countries picking up the pieces of the war between them) they have both lost what they loved and they are both broken people. As they begin to understand this, a romance blossoms. Now, I'm not a huge fan of the romance that forms between the two only because I don't agree with tossing in a romance to try and make a film more interesting or widely appealing (ironically, as in real life, if you have to force a romance, it's probably not going to work out) but it was nice to see a romantic relationship based on a seemingly deeper connection. All that to say, through his relationships with Major Hasan and Ayshe, The Water Diviner reveals that former enemies can reconcile, and even become friends and that we can find common ground to help our fellow man. Other themes could be explored, but this would get way too long and turn into Valium in readable form...
Brass Tacks: Though it did not meet all of its expectations, I definitely enjoyed the film for its cinematography and the deep, undying, paternal love showcased by Connor. Bring your tissues though...some scenes sure are tough. To first time Director Russell Crowe, I say good job.
Have you seen it? How do you think Russ did?