"It was my job to steer my boys to manhood, I failed them."
Is Russell Crowe losing influence? That’s not a statement it is just a genuine question. To me it feels as if it’s been a while since we’ve seen the actor give a genuine performance that can carry a film. That would explain why he’s taken the step of directing as well. But like I said, I’m not confirming his ability (or inability) to act, merely questioning it. But then again we could gain a genuinely talented director here (remember Ben Affleck) with the Water Diviner, his directorial debut.
Following the suicide of his grief stricken wife an Australian farmer (Crowe) goes in search of his three sons having been reported as missing in action at the battle of Gallipoli. To find them though he must confront British bureaucracy, Turkish revolts and the other widows left by war.
It feels as if its aiming to be more of a classical tale on war, full of passion and bravery. There’s less of a pull towards the centre of battle and instead, watching it from the side-lines and aftermath. That being said there is a very impressive portrayal of the battle of Gallipoli through the eyes of a Turkish soldier. There’s plenty of focus on the more intimate side of the impact war has on humans and without a great need for constant action to keep the audience hooked, instead we witness what could be a more personal tale of struggle.
Keeping in the tone of classic films, there’s a heavy and melodramatic theme running throughout that appears to be hit and miss for me. Though it plays well in the whole war-is-hell segment it makes other scenes, particularly the gushy love story (we’ll get to that later), messy and almost lost within the barren landscape that assembles the rest of the film. The story may seem ridiculous in any other context but amidst the chaos we witness at the start of the film is naturally feels more acceptable, a clever move in the nonlinear story, though it’s a standard technique by now it works very well.
An interesting comparison springs to mind because similarly to Unbroken, another war film directed by another actor turned director, The Water Diviner has a very striking look to it. There’s a blandness and desolation that emphasises the themes and motives that are on display here, through of beautiful and natural symbolism. The direction itself has a more standard feel to it, as if Crowe is only just finding his feet here. Make no mistake, eventually he may get there, but right now he’s just going along with the stabilisers on his bike, playing it safe and going along at a reasonable pace.
This may be a slightly biased complaint, but all the British characters are almost laughably unsympathetic, as if we go home and twiddle our moustaches, chuckling at how we made that bloke who looks like Maximus suffer. For most of the time The Water Diviner does an excellent job of acknowledging the pain felt on both sides of the conflict and giving neither a singular claim on the grief. But when it comes to dealing with British officers (who were probably very annoying and uncaring at the time anyway) it comes perilously close to delving into that good vs evil routine, nearly destroying the grey picture it has built up so far.
As I mentioned earlier, the love story really drags this film down. Where earlier the melodrama almost heightened the sense of realism for the first half of the film, it just makes this sequence look clichéd and over acted, with no consistent character development or relatable aspects. It really feels fake and forced.
Though there are moments of sincerity and pain, complete with the potential to create a harrowing picture of an often overlooked side of history, The Water Diviner lacks the depth and structure to really drive its point home. But you can look out for Crowe as a director, showing some promise here.