In June of 2015 one of my favourite HBO shows of all time will make its debut on the silver screen. While Entourage may not be the greatest television show ever created, it sure does succeed in allowing its main demographic to fantasize about fame and fortune. It is true that the Entourage film has very little to almost zero relevance to The Water Diviner, but its subject matter (a very eager Hollywood star, in this case, the fictional Vincent Chase making his directorial film debut) does. Now you may be asking, what is the point here?
What many won’t know is that The Water Diviner marks the directorial debut of famed New Zealand born, Australian loving actor Russell Crowe. Sharing in his immense adoration for the land down under with fellow famed Hollywood actors Hugh Jackman and Hugo Weaving, Crowe directs this film centred around the Gallipoli Campaign, also known as The Battle of Gallipoli, and Australian farmer/water diviner, Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe).
Years after the initial battles, Joshua and his wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) have done the best they can grieving with the reality of losing all three sons to the war. Essentially, The Water Diviner becomes a great cinematic tale about hope, survival, and determination, soaked with an immense amount of inexperience by its very trying but lacking director.
Hope is a big theme within the film, and going back to the analogy mentioned in the first paragraph, the same could be said for many upcoming actors turned directors. While the trend of acting-to-directing is nothing new (Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, and of course, Ben Affleck), it is something that many actors try, gaining knowledge and great aspiration from their confident directing leaders, but fail miserably. Just ask Ryan Gosling and his 2014 Cannes flop Lost River.
While The Water Diviner may be considered anything but a flop, the film does seem quite familiar very quickly. Taking cues from very popular and hailed contemporary war dramas in the last few decades, Saving Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers most notably, Crowe’s directorial debut is a beautifully shot, but poorly guided historical picture.
High handed melodrama, non-conspicuous zooms during very pivotal narrative scenes and monologues, as well as the oh-so painful use of unnecessary slow-motion, The Water Diviner is ever so slightly taken away from a compelling story of patriarch and redemption. Against all odds Joshua makes his way to Gallipoli, a land labelled as a stretch of Earth saturated with “blood and ghosts”, where he is greeted by Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a military official who is tasked with helping Lt./Col Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney in his second straight historical war epic following Unbroken) adequately bury fellow countrymen. While most of the film is driven by blind and unexplainable intuition, Joshua finds two of his sons, Henry and Edward Connor (Ben O’Toole and James Fraser), who remain together. Not knowing the whereabouts of the remains of his eldestArthur (Ryan Corr), who had been tasked with guarding his two youngest brothers, Joshua never loses faith in the chance of seeing his first-born.
While much of the film narrative is driven by prospect, Major Hasan informs Joshua that he remembers his son in a chance encounter and gives him hope that he may still be alive, leading Joshua to Istanbul where divinely, he finds himself in the care of a recently widowed Ayshe’s (Olga Kurylenko) hotel. It is there that Joshua slowly sheds his Commonwealth patriotism of Queen and Country beginning to open his eyes to the customs and lifestyle of the Turkish people, including that of Ayshe and her son Orhan (Dylan Georgides).
While romance never plays a strong influence on the film between Joshua and Ayshe, some of the best scenes are undoubtedly between Crowe and Kurylenko as well as Crowe and Turkish acting gem Erdogan. Many won’t be astonished by Crowe’s direction but he can rest assured, after the atrocities that were Noah, Winter’s Tale and Broken City, that his acting is in top form in The Water Diviner, proving scene and scene again that his talents as an actor are far from finished. Luckily, the casting and acting of the film is undoubtedly its strong point, including former Bond girl Kurylenko who is almost unrecognizable as Ayshe.
Russell Crowe may not be the next Orson Welles, Rob Reiner, or Kenneth Branagh – men whose directorial debuts and first feature films Citizen Kane, This is Spinal Tap! and Henry V respectfully established their talents behind the lens as well as in front of the camera – but there is definitely hope for a very talented and ambitious man who is willing to shed light to some very obscure historical events. Crowe will surely be given a slew of elements in the fight to get his film seen and appreciated. While I won’t be one to truly drown The Water Diviner, here’s hoping that Crowe’s first feature will have greater hope of keeping afloat than sinking quickly, despite its lack of any real cinematic divine intervention.
Night Film Reviews: 6.5 Out of 10 Stars
Do you think The Water Diviner will withstand the test of time and be a very rare actor-turned-director success story, or cautionary tale? Will The Water Diviner sink or swim? Do Crowe’s talents behind the camera exceed those in front? Are you excited to see The Water Diviner? Leave your thoughts below!