The Water Diviner, a good film that might’ve been great, is a surprisingly effective and occasionally moving adventure. It’s also a brief object lesson in the politics of film distribution: without a famous star taking his first turn at directing, it would not have been seen in many markets — but it would’ve been better.
The 400-Word Review: The Water Diviner
By Sean Collier
April 27, 2015
The star in question is Russell Crowe, making his directorial debut with a script by fellow Australians Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios. Unsurprisingly, Crowe also stars in the film, which depicts events during and after the Battle of Gallipoli.
Joshua Connor (Crowe) lost three sons in that conflict, and their bodies remain in Turkey — a fact that has driven Joshua’s wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) to madness. When she take her own life, Joshua is determined to find the remains of his children; on arriving in Turkey, though, he finds the reverberations of war are deafening.
There are a number of procedural elements, and there’s a moderately-engaging love story (Joshua falls for Turkish war widow Ayshe, played by Olga Kurylenko). The film’s title comes from our hero’s supernatural ability to locate underground wellsprings, and, later, buried bodies; the film’s reliance on Joshua’s abilities as literal truth weakens its impact.
I’d put that flaw, and several others on the director. There is a classic elegance to some of his work behind the camera, though he’s also overly busy; you’ll get your fill of shots that slowly pan in for no discernible reason.
Sequences of battle, though, are gripping; by the time The Water Diviner produces a series of revelations in its last half-hour, the film becomes far more powerful than it has any right to be. Some of the credit should go to cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, but don’t take everything away from Crowe; with some practice and restraint, he has the potential to make some worthy films.
And yes, this film is somewhat worthy on its own. The director’s biggest mistake, though, is in casting himself; already one to under-act, Crowe seems to be distracted by his directorial responsibilities while on-screen (and nearly every such shot is noticeably weaker than those where he can remain behind the camera). The Water Diviner might’ve been better with a different director, and certainly would’ve been stronger with a different lead — but under those circumstances, I might never have seen it. And, despite some problems, I’m glad I did.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark