The Water Diviner sees Russell Crowe direct Russell Crowe in a Russell Crowe film. It may have ‘vanity project’ written all over it, and to a certain degree it is, both superficially and thematically; but this is the least of the films problems. Based on the book by Andrew Anastasios and Dr Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios; Crowe’s directorial debut sees him play an Australian farmer/water diviner – which allows for plenty of shots of his bare chest being soaked by water – who is dealing with the loss of his three sons, all of whom died on the battlefield in Gallipoli four years previously. Wishing to keep a promise that he makes to his wife, he travels to Turkey, where he begins his search for the remains of his boys, so he can return them home to be buried. As he navigates through the politics and ongoing struggles within the country, a relationship between him and a widowed hotel owner begins to develop.
I like Russell Crowe. Even when he’s in a bad film – and he’s made some right stinkers – he’s usually really good. The same applies with The Water Diviner, but whereas his acting chops never come into question, the same can’t be said of his directing skills. One of the biggest problems with the film, is that it’s too ‘safe’. The story is pretty straight forward, and that’s exactly how Crowe plays it. There’s nothing wrong with the way in which he directs in that sense, but it doesn’t allow him creative freedom, nor the chance to show off what he can really do. There’s some nice flourishes throughout it, but there’s nothing within in that immediately sets Crowe up to be a brilliant film-maker, in the same way Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone, did for him.
More than anything, the film feels confused, and is all over the place tonally. This derives primarily from the romantic sub-plot between Crowe’s farmer and Olga Kurylenko’s hotel owner, whose husband also died in battle. It beggars belief that the two would ever become romantically involved, with their different religious beliefs, as well as their grief, hardly ever coming into play. It feels at times, that this aspect of the film is just dead weight, that drags the film down from being a harrowing account of war and the scars – political, physical, and emotional – it leaves, to something that’s as sickly sweet as the coffee served in the film.
There’s no better example of this than the film’s final few moments. After packing one hell of an emotional punch, with a sequence on the battlefield that will be sure to make even the hardest of hearts melt into a flood of tears. This is swiftly followed up with some more light hearted romantic stuff, which is then followed with some pretty harrowing facts about the war, and how few bodies were ever found. The whole film works on this level: tough war bit; romantic bit; tough war bit; romantic bit. The two just don’t mesh well here and that really lets The Water Diviner down.
Charming performances, and some excellent photography really save it from being a complete disaster. There’s nothing that’s really awful about The Water Diviner, and it does have some moments where it’s genuinely touching. However, with its off balance tone and some contrivances, it may just leave you with the that sinking feeling afterwards.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com