Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“The Water Diviner”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the drama “The Water Diviner”, starring Russell Crowe, who also directed.


When a man believes he’s lost his three sons to a war, he heads overseas to try to locate them – but will he find them alive or have they all perished?


A century ago, The Battle Of Gallipoli took place in Turkey; The ANZACs (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) spent months fighting the Turkish military before eventually retreating, thus ceding victory to the Turks. Both sides incurred substantial losses, but there may be no Australian family that suffered more than The Connors; Connor (Crowe) and his wife surrendered all three of their sons to the war and none of them returned. Years after the war’s end, Connor’s wife is still so traumatized by the loss of her children that she commits suicide. Now a widower, this becomes Connor’s motivation to venture to Turkey; his mission is to either find his sons and bring them home or secure their remains and give them a proper burial back in Australia.

Once in Istanbul, Connor sees he will not easily accomplish his goal. For one thing, the British military refuse to provide him with the necessary pass to reach Gallipoli. Another problem is resistance from the Turkish people themselves; although several years removed from the war, memories of hatred for the Aussies remains rather fresh. Stuck, Connor takes a room at a hotel run by Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko); Ayshe is openly hostile to Connor when when discovering he’s Australian – her husband was killed in the war and she’s now forced to raise her young son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades) alone.

Eventually, Connor finds a way to circumvent the British military’s regulations and reaches Gallipoli – much to the consternation of the Australian military officer there. It seems the Australian military are also struggling to recover the remains of their fallen and have been forced to enlist the aid of their Turkish counterparts in order to do so. After believing he may have uncovered some identification belonging to two of his sons, Connor learns his oldest son may have survived at a Prisoner Of War camp. With this information, Connor begins a dangerous trek across Turkey, which now finds itself engaged in a war with Greece. Upon arriving at the location where his son is believed to be living, will Connor be able to find him and convince him to return to Australia? 


“The Water Diviner” is based on a true story; released in Australia, it won several awards. This may have come out of a sense of patriotism – in some respects, it feels like their version of “American Sniper”. The dour tone of the story put into place at the movie’s opening tries to be somewhat offset by the suggestion of Connor’s romance with Ayshe and his paternalistic friendship with Orhan. As far as the action scenes are concerned, Connor is portrayed as something of an Australian version of Indiana Jones. These unrealistic representations tend to undercut what is, at its essence, an otherwise remarkable tale of fatherly devotion.

Viewers both willing and able to substantially suspend disbelief during this highly sensationalized version of these events may find “The Water Diviner” to be an entertaining adventure. Unless the story is thoroughly researched before viewing the movie, it will be difficult to separate reality from fiction – and therein lies part of the problem with “The Water Diviner”. There is a title card at the beginning of the film which states upfront this is based on a true story, but which parts are actually true and the rest the product of the imagination of the picture’s screenwriters is just about anyone’s guess.

There is also the matter of Crowe’s ego that appears to be imbued in nearly every shot; he seems to be dedicated to branding himself as the aging action-adventure hero type in the style of Liam Neeson. Crowe’s directorial choices are curious.  For example, why is the audience treated to seemingly random shots of whirling dervishes at various points? Without giving away much, the ending is a little too perfect; all of the characters’ stories are tidily resolved and while this may be fitting in a work of fiction, seeing it in a movie supposedly having its basis in fact may be a bit hard to take.

The Water Diviner (2014) on IMDb

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