Mark Reviews Movies

The Water Diviner


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Russell Crowe

Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Jai Courtney, Dylan Georgiades, Steve Bastoni, Isabel Lucas, Salih Kalyon, Megan Gale, Ryan Corr, James Fraser, Ben O'Toole, Jacqueline McKenzie

MPAA Rating: R (for war violence including some disturbing images)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 4/24/15 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 24, 2015

The primary goal of The Water Diviner seems to be to achieve a complete sense of earnestness over all other concerns. Its hero is not so much an Everyman as he is a man who can do everything: a father whose connection to his sons transcends even death, a mystic farmer whose ability to divine water in the harsh Outback of Australia quickly adapts to being able to find bodies on the desolate remnants of the battlefield at Gallipoli, a widower who overcomes his grief to find the spark of love with another woman, and a traveler who learns to appreciate and even fight on behalf of another culture in the face of deeply rooted distrust. It's amazing how much this character can do, but it's even more amazing how much of a hollow vessel he turns out to be in spite of his accomplishments.

The movie is "inspired by true events," which, of course, means that most of it is likely codswallop. We must accept this fact. Fortunately, the movie makes it pretty easy to dismiss the "true" part of its story around the time that the protagonist starts using his divining powers to recreate a fierce battle in his mind, following the tracks of his deceased sons until he's standing exactly on top of the ground under which their bodies are buried. There's mystical nonsense, and then there's just plain old nonsense. That part has its feet planted firmly in the latter territory.

We must also accept this, although the movie once again makes it easy for us. The sequence, like the rest of the movie, is sincere. We may not buy the act itself, but we can buy the emotion that motivates and results from it, as a father comes to realize the terrifying final hours of the lives of his sons.

As silly as the idea behind it may be, the sequence works because of that sincerity, and for a while, the movie works on similar grounds. This is the directorial debut of Russell Crowe, who also stars as the do-it-all farmer Joshua Connor, and he displays an ability to get straight to the heart of scene after scene, even as the cumulative effect of mounting contrivances within Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios' screenplay makes the whole affair more and more preposterous.

Four years after the Gallipoli Campaign, Connor and his wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) live alone on their farm. She has lost her mind, insisting that Connor read their sons a bedtime story, even though all three were reported killed on that battlefield in Turkey. After his wife commits suicide, Connor makes a graveside promise to bring home their sons' bodies.

He travels to Istanbul and takes up lodging in a hotel run by Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), whose husband was also killed in battle. She doesn't trust the foreigner from a country that she saw as an invading force only a few years ago, and he doesn't trust the inhabitants of the country where his sons were killed.

Connor fails in going through official channels to visit Gallipoli, but an unofficial route leads him to a sympathetic coalition of ANZAC and Turkish officials led by Lt. Colonel Hughes (Jai Courtney) and Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan). Their task is to find, identify, and bury the bodies from the campaign. They allow Connor to search for the bodies of his three sons, but he only finds two. The third was taken as a prisoner of war, and his fate is unclear.

Obviously, there isn't much to the central story of Connor's search for his sons, and much of it spent in waiting mode, as the farmer encounters hurdle after hurdle to get from one point to the next (which is, come to think of it, the full extent of that plotline, although a final revelation about the missing son is potent). The rest of the movie's narrative is filled with a handful of subplots that attempt to provide some cultural and historical context to the contemporary situation in Turkey.

Some of it, such as the early portions of the burial task group and a few discussions about the conflicts that have resulted or are imminent after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, is intriguing if only half-heartedly explained. Hasan becomes a major player in this—a career soldier and devout patriot who is trying to facilitate reconciliation with one former foe at the same time he's preparing to encounter another. His story seems far more relevant to the political issues the movie tries to explain, and it is simply a far more interesting tale than Connor's, with Hasan becoming the far more intriguing character. Connor becomes an unwitting participant in the rebellion after following Hasan to the underground headquarters of a Turkish nationalist group.

The rest of the narrative, which involves the burgeoning affection between Connor and Ayshe, feels wholly out of place here. There's the predictable trajectory of their relationship (tension that becomes respect that becomes romance), and there's also a side conflict involving her brother-in-law (Steve Bastoni), who wants to take Ayshe as a second wife.

The results of this mishmash of stories are mixed. The Water Diviner almost succeeds by way of its unfaltering sincerity, but the movie is too unfocused—its narrative components too inconsistent—for it to have much of an effect.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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