I’ve looked sideways at Russell Crowe ever since I made the mistake of watching him star in the unintentionally hilarious “Noah” a couple years ago. Nevertheless, this week’s Friday night movie was “The Water Diviner,” reportedly inspired by true events and powered by Crowe who both directed and starred in it.
Absent any information, you might think this could be a tale of a farmer and his family attempting to eke out a living in the parched Australian outback that becomes increasingly dependent on the Crowe’s skills as a finder of underground water, but it is instead a tale of a farmer who loses his family to war and with his skills as a water diviner undertakes a seemingly impossible mission to locate his sons’ bodies halfway around the world where they fell on a battlefield during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.
Crowe soon finds himself in the killing zone four years after the fighting, where he manages through luck, determination and sympathy to secure permission to search for the remains of his boys in the midst of a multi-national, large-scale, first-of-its-kind effort to recover the war dead, identify them and bury them with proper honors.
I do have to take issue with the fact that Crowe’s character on essentially his first day searching manages to use his water divining skills to locate their bones on the very first try. It wouldn’t have hurt to include a couple false starts — but that’s just an editing quibble.
For the most part, it is a gem of a film that provides an important and unique perspective on the horrific campaign of Gallipoli during World War I from the allied side as well as the Turkish side. The cinematography is exquisite, aided in large part by the visually stunning locations utilized in Istanbul; and Crowe’s performance as well as those in the supporting roles areÂ all exceptional. The battle sequences — especially given the ultimate futility of the seven-month campaign that resulted in an estimated 500,000 dead, wounded and missing — are particularly harrowing and heart-wrenching.
Where the film falters a bit is near the end where it apparently had to be Hollywood’ified with a rather contrived romance that of course blossoms and something of a textbook “they all lived happily ever after ending.” But none of that detracts from what is a well-paced and compelling motion picture.