Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney
In 1919 an Australian farmer named Connor (Crowe) travels to Turkey to try to locate his three missing sons who fought in the battle of Gallipolli after promising his wife that he will find them and bring them home.
Many big name actors like to use their status to fund passion projects (also known as self-indulgence vanity projects), and there is not necessarily anything wrong with that as it can produce some great films. It is certainly also always interesting to see what the stars we are used to seeing in front of the camera can do when behind it and in charge of it, though when they are in charge there is always the risk the film pretty much disappears up the backside of the star making it. Russell Crowe has been directed by some great filmmakers in his acting career, and it appears to have rubbed off on him as The Water Diviner certainly contains some wonderfully put together moments, but sadly less of a compliment can be made to some of the narrative decisions made by Crowe and screenwriters Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios.
The Water Diviner is apparently based on a true story and is most certainly a story worth telling, but Crowe includes way too much of the clunky Hollywood gloss that has been in some of his previous films which does ultimately dilute both the film’s ultimate emotional power and involvement. Whether Crowe had to agree to his film having such shamelessly middle of the road and predictable narrative developments for it to be funded is of course unknown to me, but it certainly feels like it.
The worst moments tend to involve subplots centred on Olga Kurylenko’s character, and there are moments (particularly a scene near the end of the film) that are painfully cringe inducing. However no cast member is immune to having to say the occasionally incredibly clichéd line of dialogue, this is particularly the case when other characters are talking about Crowe’s character when he is not in the scene; we already are on his side, but the dialogue tries way too hard to emphasise just how great a character his is, which sometimes gets annoying. Likewise Crowe occasionally feels the need to include a Ridley Scott (or Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire – grrrr!) style slow motion shot, which is just incredibly patronising in how it is supposed to emphasise its apparent point.
However, (the many) clunks and contrivances aside, when Crowe has the freedom to flex his directorial muscles he most certainly delivers; the sequences of the battle of Gallipolli are wonderfully put together and genuinely thrilling to watch as well as at times truly emotional. Crowe utilises the scenery of the film’s settings and with the help of the excellent cinematography by Andrew Lesnie creates some stunning shots that do make The Water Diver feel truly cinematic and justify viewing it on the big screen. Likewise one of the film’s opening scenes of Crowe’s Connor digging a well in the Australian outback is wonderfully put together, it may not be quite up there with Daniel Day-Lewis digging a well in There Will Be Blood, but Crowe utilises his physical presence as an actor to create a great scene. It is also not there for its own sake as its inclusion is justified by later (admittedly slightly contrived) narrative developments.
There are also flashbacks involving Connor’s three son’s which provide the film’s most emotional moments, and the inclusion of these and the scene of Connor digging a well do enhance the narrative and are proof that Crowe certainly has talent, flair and a great visual eye as a director. Should Russell Crowe choose to direct a film again (and I hope he does) the film he makes would be so much better if it avoids resorting to the extremely lazy and contrived narrative developments that The Water Diviner often resorts to and then maybe he would make a great film instead of an admittedly solid but unashamedly middle of the road, and therefore ultimately quite forgettable film.
Russell Crowe’s passion project certainly has plenty of hits and misses in equal measure; The Water Diviner undoubtedly showcases all of Crowe’s visual flair as a director and natural screen presence as an actor, but these are too often undermined by some hideous narrative contrivances and some genuinely cringe worthy scenes and dialogue. Supposedly playing it safe can sometimes be a very bad thing Russell.