"The Water Diviner" is an uneven effort by first-time director Russell Crowe, who also stars as Australian farmer, Joshua Connor --- a man obsessed with finding his three sons lost in the horrific Battle of Gallipoli. The occasionally preposterous screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios doesn't exactly help Crowe as director, either.
Joshua is a man of many talents. One of those is finding water beneath the most unlikely landscape. The film begins with Joshua successfully digging a well, all alone except for his dog and horse, on his vast acreage in Australia. But his wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) only wants her sons back from the war in Turkey. Joshua promises to find them and bring them home to her.
Following her death, he sails to Istanbul, and is immediately rebuffed by the British who will not grant him access to the killing fields of Gallipoli. Joshua is befriended by Orhan (Dylan Georgiades), a young boy whose mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) owns the small hotel where he takes Joshua. Ayshe doesn't exactly want Joshua staying at her hotel, but Orhan is thrilled to have someone to show around.
It is suggested to Joshua that he hire a local fisherman to sail him to the fields where most of the fighting occurred. He pleads his case to the officer in charge, but assistance comes from Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and his sidekick, Sgt. Jemal (Cem Yilmaz), two Turkish officers who are present to aid in the identification of the dead. It is Hasan who gives Joshua encouragement, and then later, much-appreciated information about the fate of one of his sons.
The most rewarding aspect of "The Water Diviner" is Joshua's relationship with the two Turkish soldiers. Crowe is adequate in his portrayal of Joshua, but he hasn't aged well --- and he's gotten rather beefy. Both Erdogan and Yilmaz are well-known and respected Turkish actors, and they steal the film from Crowe. Even a few of the ridiculous lines of dialogue don't diminish their performances.
They are equally solid, believable and effective in a screenplay that is all over the place. And I mention Crowe's physique because of the budding relationship between Ayshe and Joshua. He's way too old for her, which makes their attraction less plausible. And I was baffled by Ayshe's logic --- one minute she detests Joshua, and the next she's chatty and flirty. I simply did not buy their romance --- and those scenes are the poorest written in the script.
"The Water Diviner" is a gorgeous movie, no doubt. Oscar-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie has photographed the film with exceptional lighting and grace, especially the battle scenes. And costume designer Tess Schofield's contributions to the beauty of "The Water Diviner" are also notable.
There is one scene which I found particularly egregious. Ayshe, in anger, hits her brother-in-law after he insults her. He, in turn, smacks her around repeatedly until Joshua steps between them. She yells at Joshua to stay out of it because she hit him first. Though I realize this is a period piece, could we please get past the idea that women think they deserve to be attacked in retaliation?
"The Water Diviner" recently won three Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, which included Best Picture. I don't think it will fare that well come Oscar season next year.
Opinion: Wait for DVD