The Water Diviner (2014)

The Water Diviner (2014)
  • Time: 110 min
  • Genre: Drama | War
  • Director: Russell Crowe
  • Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney


An Australian man travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons reported missing in action, where he forges a relationship with the beautiful Turkish woman who owns the hotel in which he stays. Holding onto hope, he must travel across the war-torn landscape with the help of a Turkish Officer, himself a veteran of the battles.


  • As a migrant to Australia of many years I still cannot fathom the Australian patriotism that surfaces when national citing of Gallipoli is mentioned; as many people know it was a defeat packaged in that over- credited brain of the first lord of the admiralty: Winston Churchill. We all know that his use of Australian troops, among others, in an ill- founded attack at Gallipoli which strategically may have been reasonable but tactilely virtually impossible given where the Allied landing occurred.

    With this monumentally futile battle as the background a father returns to the actual battlefield after the war to find the bodies of his three sons who never returned to Australia and their parents. As I wrote at the beginning, this is a film about war but has a minimum of scenes of the warfare elements. It is a film about the search, definitely, but it is also about what he finds in that country so far away with people that are far away from his own parochial patch of farmland on the desert’s edge in NSW.

    I thought the film was about discovery; the discovery of his missing sons and likewise the discovery, not so much about himself but about a larger world with vastly different people who have their own unique approach to life on this rock. It is a movie of joining and of the realization that we are far closer than the war leaders would like us to understand.

  • “One old chap managed to get here from Australia, looking for his son’s grave.” One can see how that sentence, taken from a letter written by Cyril Hughes, a high-ranking officer in charge with recovering and burying the bodies of the Australian soldiers from the battlefields, sparked a flame in writer Andrew Anastasios’ imagination. Those words, themselves an encapsulation of any war’s effect on those left behind, form the spine of Russell Crowe’s rousing directorial debut, The Water Diviner.

    In many respects, the WW1 battles at Gallipoli, a peninsula in the Ottoman Empire, could be likened to the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ lives were sacrificed in what many described as dirty little trench wars. It was a loss of innocence, one that very much forged the Australian identity. Peter Weir’s acclaimed 1981 Gallipoli, featuring a young Mel Gibson, movingly depicted the slow erosion of the ideals held by the plucky and courageous young men as they endured the hardships of war. The final frame of a soldier falling backwards as he’s struck by gunfire is as iconic an image of death in wartime as Willem Dafoe’s expiration in Platoon.

    There is no such iconic moment in The Water Diviner, but it is hard to argue against the go-for-the-guts emotionalism of watching a young man lying on the bloodied dirt, listening to one brother emitting the most ghastly wails whilst the other brother wishes for their mother. The loss of those three boys still haunts their mother (Jacqueline McKenzie) four years on. Consumed by her anguish, she drowns herself. Her husband Joshua (Crowe) vows to find his sons and bring their bodies back home for burial.

    He journeys to Constantinople, where ten-year-old Orhan (Dylan Georgiades) grabs his bag and leads him to the hotel run by his mother Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) and uncle Omer (Steve Bastoni). Initially aloof, Ayshe soon becomes a source of support, advising him to seek out a fisherman to take him to Gallipoli beachhead after the British War Office refuses to grant him a permit to enter the territory. His presence there surprises ANZAC captain Lt.-Col. Hughes (Jai Courtney), who is in the midst of the recovery effort to “put a name next to every body,” and adds another source of potential tension as Hughes is already dealing with frictions stemming from having Turkish war veterans Major Hassan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and Sergeant Jemal (Cem Yilmaz) assist in the mission.

    The Water Diviner makes no bones about its anti-war stance, but it is also quite clear in the esteem and gratitude it holds for those fallen soldiers. More remarkable is the sensitivity and sense of comradeship it extends to the Turks, who suffered greater fatalities. Indeed, Crowe and his screenwriters are wholly invested in understanding more than a little about the so-called enemy, whether it be Hassan’s involvement with the nationalists or Ayshe disclosing how everything, including romance, is decided by the reading of coffee grounds.

    Crowe fashions a big-hearted, old-fashioned, sweeping epic that isn’t ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve. It has some minor drawbacks – the cuts to the battle scenes often disrupt the rhythm of the movie, and Joshua using his water-divining powers to locate his sons tips the mysticism into corny territory – but these are mostly overshadowed by Crowe’s energy as a director, his understated turn as an actor, and the cast’s first-rate performances. Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie does exquisite work capturing the splendours of both Australia and modern-day Turkey, though all pale in comparison to Kurylenko’s impossible beauty.

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  • Quickie Review:

    After the death of his three sons in the WWI Battle of Gallipoli, devastated by the loss Connor’s (Russell Crowe) wife takes her own life. To fulfil her last wish, Connor travels to Turkey to return their sons’ bodies back to Australia, their home. The Water Diviner is both well-acted and filmed. The movie fully develops its character while fairly showing the perspectives from both sides affected by the war. It is not without flaws in that it occasionally adds melodrama to the war drama. Still as a whole this is a solid directorial debut by Russell Crowe.

    Full Review:

    To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this movie. I rarely heard people talk about it and I only found out this movie even existed about a month or so ago. Nevertheless, I went in curious to see what Russell Crowe delivers as a director and mostly I liked what he achieved.

    The performances in The Water Diviner are really good. That’s not surprising from the talented Russell Crowe but Olga Kurylenko did some of her best work here as well. I always thought Kurylenko was a serviceable actress but in this movie she actually shows some range. Asides from the performances, I appreciated the different perspectives that were shown from the people involved in the war. War dramas can at times fall into the trap of painting the different sides black or white. Fortunately The Water Diviner recognises and presents the fact that both sides have their guilty executioners and innocent victims just caught in the middle of a senseless war. So the delicate handling of such a subject matter should be commended. Also the cinematography of the movie was quite impressive, capturing the life and landscape of the early 1900s Turkey.

    What hindered the movie from being great for me were the moments where the movie got a bit too melodramatic. I can’t say much without revealing some of the plot points but these were scenes that clearly Crowe wanted the audience to be emotionally affected. However, the scenes are repeated so often or prolonged for so long that they started to lose their effect on me and felt like I was being begged to shed a tear. On top of that, all too often there are so many coincidences, the movie almost becomes a fantasy rather than a serious war drama. These series of coincidences solve many of the problems that Crowe’s character faced, wrapping up in a nice little bow. It diminishes any sense of struggle and as a result I ended up being less invested whenever the characters were in danger.

    All in all The Water Diviner is a good movie. I just wish the movie wasn’t pandering to our emotions and instead let the story unfold more organically. Nevertheless, considering this is the first feature length film as a director for Russell Crowe I am interested to see what he takes on next.

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  • “Are there any more records about my son? We are Ottomans, not Germans. ”

    It looks like “Russell Crowe movie week” here. After “Fathers and daughters” I had to check his directorial debut. And to be honest, I thought this postwar dramatic film was much better than the sugarcoated “Fathers and daughters”. In both films the father figure plays an important role. In “The Water Diviner” however, he’s a grieving father whose sons were killed in the Battle of Gallipoli, which took place in Turkey during the 1st World War. A bloody battle, on a piece of land as large as a handkerchief, between Turkish troops and a corps with Australian and New Zealand troops (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ANZAC). It’s beyond dispute that wars provide disgusting scenes which once again demonstrate the absurdity of such tragedies. The agony of the three brothers on the battlefield was the most unpleasant and difficult part of the entire movie. It was so terrible to watch. I really had enough of it at a given time. The relevance was clear to me. It wasn’t clear to me why it had to take so miserable long.

    Apart from a few hiccups, I thought it was a fairly successful film. Looking at the technical side of the movie, you could say it was excellent. Perhaps it seemed to be a dramatized travel documentary at times. But the palette of colored fabrics and the interior view of Turkish mosques assured some visually stunning images. The phenomenal scene in Australia, where Connor (Russell Crowe) protects his three sons against an impressive sandstorm, was a breathtaking moment. And this impressive imagery is used throughout this reasonable epic adventure story. It resembled a bit “The Physician”. In this case it’s someone from down-under who gazes at the traditions, the folklore and the beauty of Istanbul. Naturally this leads to intercultural conflicts with a few yelling Turks, who defend their values, and a fleeing Aussie.

    The historical side was also fascinating. I don’t know that much about the 1st World War. And certainly not about what happened in the Arab part of the world. The Turkish community wasn’t happy about welcoming Australian tourists afterwards. This was also presented realistic. At the same time the cooperation between the ANZAC and Turkish Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) also didn’t proceed so smoothly and the intense hatred again resurfaced. And just let me mention the scene at the beginning with the local priest who has a huge problem with the burial of Connor’s wife, because she committed suicide apparently. A strong moment. A proof that the short-slightness and insensitivity remained intact through the years.

    Altogether it’s a wonderful debut from Crowe. And this combined with a not so bad leading role. The role Erdogan played was also noteworthy. A calm Turkish Major who forgets his grievances and offers his help to identify the tens of thousands of victims without hesitation. And additionally also aid Connor with his search for his lost sons. Dylan Georgiades plays the role of son Orhan enthusiastically. While the ultra-cool Olga Kurylenko gives shape to the widow Ayshe. An exotic beauty who’s aloof at first, but as the film progresses her icy attitude slowly melts.

    And now it’s time for the disappointing elements of this yet fascinating film. The “station novel”-like love story that was incorporated, wasn’t really necessary according to me. The fact that it’s about two individuals from two different cultures and each bearing a loss due to the war, sounds plausible. But they should have left it at that. The paranormal talent Connor supposedly possessed, was grossly exaggerated. Sure, maybe he can find water in the bone-dry Australian desert by using a twig. I’m willing to believe that. But him standing in the middle of a battlefield in a sort of trance surrounded by the rotting remains of thousands of victims and miraculously finding the location where his sons are lying, was a bit ridiculous. And then the Indiana Jones imitation in the end, clashed a bit with the rest of the film. But the biggest annoyance was the sound. The dramatic music and sound effects were terribly noisy. By contrast, the conversations were at whisper level. I had a sore thumb afterwards because I had to use continuously the volume button. But ultimately it was still a magnificent movie.

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