Taking on his first feature film as both director and actor Russell Crowe blasts onto the screen with The Water Diviner, a compelling and romantic movie with a good measure of action. Perfect for a date and a movie with both partners being entertained right til the credits roll. It’s Crowe in his best dramatic role to date with a cast that complements the script and a crew that delivers a top notch production.
The setting is the early 1900’s and World War I has been raging on in Europe and the Middle East with Australia sending their boys to Gallipoli a hell hole on a peninsula of the Ottoman Empire. Farmer and devout husband and father Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) gets the news that their three boys who were members of the battalion facing the Turks have died in battle. Distraught over the news his wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) blames Joshua for letting them join the service. So begins a journey to find the bodies of his three sons and return them home.
The most difficult job in making a film lies with the director. He has to envision what the writers have intended for sets, locations and create the characters that will tell the story. When you are the director and the lead actor, it becomes even more difficult. This is the case for Russell Crowe and with The Water Diviner I applaud his performance for both jobs. He has complete control of his cast with excellent performances all around. He works his photographers/crews into producing a masterwork of cinematic magnificence, depicting a fierce war on a hellish battlefield, a frightening sand storm on an Australian outback, crowded cobbled streets of a Turkish village, a deadly skirmish on a mountainside and so much more.
As for Crowe’s acting, he’s back on the right track with his performance as Joshua Connor. He keeps his character interesting, not too maudlin and truly courageous. I like him in this kind of role where he can show both his meek and bullish sides. Joshua’s disheartened over the loss he has had to face, has to come to grips with more death than he can imagine, questions his feelings for the Turks and finds himself in a challenging situation involving a woman and her son caught up in a dangerous life. Crowe handles it extremely well and considering he’s directing himself at the same time.
The acting by the ensemble cast is to be admired especially the work of Olga Kurylenko as Ayshe a widow who’s torn between Turkish customs and a desire to break free. Smitten by Joshua Conner she must make choices that will affect her son and upset her dead husband’s family. She handles her character with care providing the chemistry needed to show her fears, concerns, longings and desires.
When Joshua travels to Gallipoli to find his sons graves he meets Major Hassan played by Yilmaz Erdogan. Hassan fought at Gallipoli with the Turks in a battle that left his army with many dead bodies. He’s upset at the British Government for coming to this battlefield to retrieve their dead since it’s a memorial to the Turks killed in that fight. Erdogan gives a powerful performance showing the Turkish side of the conflict while trying to come to grips with Joshua the only father who came looking for his boys. Vacillating on how to deal with this man, trying to control the British command in charge of retrieving bones and skulls, and fighting his own daemons within, Erdogan’s perfect.
It’s no wonder that the film received the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Film. Now opening on American soil, the long wait begins to see if Crowe can impress voters for a chance at an Oscar. For sure thus far I haven’t seen a drama that’s equal to the magnitude of the production, array of costumes, acting, directing and heartfelt story.
The Water Diviner has been rated R by the MPAA for war violence including some disturbing images. The film plays extremely well to both sexes, but beware that there is also a scene of brutality that may be shocking to some.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A well-crafted film for adults that shows the unbridled love of a man for his family. (A)
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Jai Courtney, Ryan Corr, James Fraser, Ben O’Toole, Jacqueline McKenzie and Isabel Lucas.
Directed by: Russell Crowe
Genre: Drama, War
MPAA Rating: R for war violence including some disturbing images
Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min
Release Date: April 24, 2015
Distributed by: Warner Bros.