FILM REVIEW: The Water Diviner

The Water Diviner (Russell Crowe, 2014)

Following his starring role in the biblical epic Noah earlier in the year, Russell Crowe once again plays the hero who can feel the water coming. But this time it is a local story, and one that acts as his directing debut. The garish opening credits lower expectations and it’s fairly obvious that The Water Diviner hasn’t been made by a seasoned pro. It’s one of the weaker Australian films released in 2014 (as there have been some great ones) but it still has its strengths.

NOAHHHHHH!!!!!!!
NOAHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Set after the Battle of Gallipoli, Connor (Crowe) ventures to Turkey in hopes of locating his three missing sons, all presumed dead. A farmer who can feel the presence of water underground, he believes he will be able to locate the remains of his sons at Gallipoli. In Istanbul he shacks up in a local hotel and meets the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) who is still waiting for her husband to return from war.

"Yeah, I'm totally waiting for my husband"
Maybe she’s born with it

Perhaps the biggest strength of this film is that it is not one-sided. It demonstrates that both Australia and Turkey committed sins in the name of war, and that both sides suffered. It’s commonplace for American war films to offer a biased, sentimental version of events which panders to patriotic audiences, but Rusty refuses to go down this path.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

What might be the most glaring fault of The Water Diviner is its casting of familiar Australian actors in some of the Turkish roles. Maybe they can get away with Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko playing a Turkish woman, but Megan Gale is a step too far. As is Steve Bastoni – whose biggest role to date has been Steve from Neighbours – as Omer. I’m not buying it! Cast Dan Wyllie and Damon Herriman as Brits, fine. But it’s difficult to take the film too seriously when the face of David Jones is pretending to be the lowly wife of a polygamist. AS IF you’d need a second wife if she was your first!

Let's do coffee some time
Let’s do coffee some time

It’s almost heart-warming to see Russell Crowe playing an Aussie for only the third time in twenty years (I recently watched The Sum of Us and his natural accent almost seemed foreign). Some can’t stand watching the guy but I have never been disappointed with his performance (even, surprisingly, in Les Misérables). I adore Ryan Corr and I wish we could have seen more of him – he is largely absent for obvious reasons – but his big scene is the most important one in the whole film. I cried. His characters always seem to break my heart.

"The Les Mis fans can't get me up here!"
“The Les Mis fans can’t get me up here!”

The big moment I was waiting for did seem to fall a bit flat – though perhaps this was because Rusty didn’t go for the obvious sentimental choice, which is to be commended. Instead he brings out the big guns a few moments later. Unfortunately, he made a major mistake with his ending, which was excruciatingly LAME on all levels. I shake my head every time I think about it. Maybe it was sort of adorable because Rusty looked like a five-year-old, but oh my god. It was appalling. Don’t let your viewers leave on such a lame-arse note.

Call me Rusty if you like
Call me Rusty if you like

Megan Gale and corniness aside, The Water Diviner is a touching tale that comes just in time for the ANZAC centenary. Rusty takes risks which don’t always work, but his efforts are mostly admirable. As I’m sure it was said about his portrayal of Javert in Les Misérables, let’s hope next time he ends on a better note.

3 stars

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