Screened Out – The Water Diviner

By : Stephen Miller
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Russell Crowe, Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko, Yılmaz Erdoğan

If there’s one thing Russell Crowe’s directorial debut proves, it’s that he knows what sort of role he should be playing – a tough hero with a heart of gold. This epic drama about WWI and its aftermath gives his quiet, tender machismo a chance to shine. It may or may mot be proof that Crowe should direct more films; his solid, understated acting saves a lot of his other missteps.

The Water Diviner is inspired by a true story. “Inspired” means the screenwriters took liberties. These all show themselves – unlikely romance, melodrama, and film cliché.

Character actor Yılmaz Erdoğan gives a strong supporting performance.

Character actor Yılmaz Erdoğan gives a strong supporting performance.

Crowe is the farmer father of three grown boys. They live in some of the roughest and driest of Australia’s landscapes. Crowe keeps his crops alive by divining for water, using his hands and rods to “feel” where water flows underground. All three boys conscript into WWI to fight in Turkey; they are all lost in one of the bloodiest battles Australian soldiers faced. Four years later – spurred by loneliness and grief – Crowe travels to the constantly ravaged Ottoman Empire to recover their bodies.

Already, the story embraces the clash of culture. One gets the impression that Crowe’s character has never left his dusty corner of Australia, much less taken an epic hero’s journey like this.

In Turkey, Crowe immediately meets a widowed, gorgeous mother, Kurylenko. She runs a hotel with her cute, precocious boy. Her brother-in-law is trying to force her into marriage. Crowe is the unwanted foreigner, learning about their culture.

Do you smell a romance? You should. This is typical film trope. We know exactly where Crowe’s relationship with the boy and his mother is going.

None of this stopped The Water Diviner from winning Australia’s version of the Oscar for best picture in 2014. Of course, Australia makes less than a tenth of the films the U.S. makes, so one can assume their bar is lower.

The Water Diviner is full of attractive supporting actors - including Olga Kurylenko and Jai Courtney.

The Water Diviner is full of attractive supporting actors – including Olga Kurylenko and Jai Courtney.

The more effective story here is Crowe’s search for his sons as Turkey enters another international dispute. In 1919, England and Australia are still traipsing around Ottoman soil as if they own it. Greece has just started a land grab along Turkish borders. Crowe must navigate bureaucracy, xenophobia, and violence to find his sons. What he learns about conflict and friendship – especially with Erdoğan, the stoic Turkish major, and Courtney, the sexy and lock-lipped Australian officer – really makes The Water Diviner worth watching.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

That’s good, because Crowe’s directing is still wobbly. He should’ve sensed that some of the scenes were melodramatically overwritten – especially since his quiet hero can speak volumes with a look. The world history the script explores is also simplified to the point of possibly being rewritten. The editing is sometimes choppy, the timeline jumpy. Zooming close-ups feel dated, and camera tilts and lens effects feel cheesy. Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie brings all the talents he used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, so it’s amazing he didn’t talk Crowe out of some of the more distracting choices.

Through it all, though, Crowe’s performance inspires emotion. His team – including the actors, cameraman Lesnie, and costumer Tess Schofield – help his bring this sentimental legend home.

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