The Water Diviner Review

Posted: August 20, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the water divinerWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Clint Eastwood. Mel Gibson. George Clooney. Ben Affleck. Angelina Jolie. These are just a few quick examples of actors who made quite a name for themselves with their transition to director. You’ll also notice that not only are each of these individuals actors, but also major movie stars who had a lot of power long before formally stepping behind the camera. In that respect, it’s pretty easy to see why so many famous movie stars make a successful transition into directing. These are people used to getting what they want, and have spent enough time in the business to know what will work. The latest star to attempt to break into directing is Russell Crowe with his old-fashioned war drama The Water Diviner.

Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) is a farmer/water diviner living with his wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) in Australia just after World War One. However their marriage is strained by the loss of their three sons at the Battle of Gallipolia. Compounding onto the pain is the ambiguity surrounding the boys’ disappearance. It is unknown how they were killed, in fact the bodies have yet to be discovered. Eventually, the pain become more for the couple to bear, so Joshua embarks to Gallipoli to uncover what happened. Along the way, he will cross paths with Australian and Turkish soldiers, along with a Turkish woman (Olga Kurylenko) who has also suffered tremendous loss through war.

This is the directorial debut from Russell Crowe and it begs the question; can the man direct? Technically, I suppose he can, but he doesn’t strike me as a very good one. Crowe does a serviceable job in regard to basic blocking and staging, but some of the decisions he makes are just baffling. The introduction to his own character and background seems very odd and an early moment of tragedy is undercut by overly melodramatic execution. Crowe is especially guilty of abusing slow-motion and sappy music in the pursuit of sentimentality. Additionally, Crowe ends up undercutting the film’s own themes. Early on, it becomes very clear The Water Diviner is trying to make a statement about the mutual humanity and connections between enemies at war. There are multiple scenes dedicated to showing the similarities between supposed enemies and the message becomes increasingly spelled out as the film goes on. However this idea is pretty much abandoned and the third act when enemy Greek soldiers are treated as totally inhumane villains so we can have an action movie climax.

To Crowe’s credit, he isn’t exactly well-served by the screenplay, which is questionable at best. Multiple times in the film, the plot is dependent on military operations changing their tactics in order to accommodate Joshua in his search for his sons. No matter what sympathy these individuals may have for the man, I doubt that they would extend such courtesy, or that they even could. Put simply, these are large scale activities being done that would not be jeopardized in order to benefit one guy. There are also scenes where Joshua is able to piece together what happened on a battlefield years prior or locate a missing person through completely inexplicable means. He simply “feels” it and when asked how he knew these things, Joshua avoids the question. It’s vaguely implied that these are visions which come from God, but that’s just lazy writing. The film is also really unfocused, drifting from thematic war drama to a light, cross-cultural romance. These storylines feel almost totally disparate and the presence of the latter robs the former of its suspense. Finally, beneath all of this flawed writing are fairly clichéd characters and messages.

There are things to like here. The cinematography by the recently departed Andrew Lesnie is absolutely stunning, for example. The landscape shots are particularly beautiful, and I do think the film has its heart in the right place. Still, The Water Diviner is a failure overall. The script is very weak and while Crowe shows some basic technical competency, his directorial choices feel uninformed. Could he eventually blossom into a better director? It’s possible I suppose, but I don’t see that in The Water Diviner.


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