It’s not uncommon for an actor to decide one day that they want to step out from in front of the camera and get behind it, especially when that said actor has had a very long and rewarding career working alongside inspiring and talented directors. Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Robert Redford; those are just a few names. Recently even Scarlett Johansson picked up a project for her directorial debut. Last year Russell Crowe made news when he landed on a very inspirational project for his directorial debut; ‘The Water Diviner’. This true story of an Australian man who travels to Turkey to find the bodies of his dead sons and give them a proper burial was ripe for cinematic adaptation, and Russell Crowe was ready and willing to get into the heart of this story. Having worked alongside such varied directors as Michael Mann, Ron Howard, Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott, Crowe has had the experience needed to try his hand at directing his own feature.
The question that remains is; how did he do?
‘The Water Diviner’ is a very good film that succeeds in providing an engaging and thought provoking story that is handsomely mounted and expertly acted. On many accounts, Crowe delivers to his audience a film that is going to leave an impression that is going to linger in their minds. The film is flawed, and Crowe’s inexperience behind the camera is shown in some of his narrative choices. I blame aspects of the script for these glitches in the flow of the film, to be honest, for certain aspects of the plot progression feels uneven. This is partly due to the fact that the film tries to add unnecessary layers in a condensed time frame. Running under two hours, the film just doesn’t have enough space within it to support the multiple themes this is trying to juggle.
I love Olga Kurylenjo’s performance and she is something truly splendid to look at, but the love story that is developed between Ayshe and Connor detracts from the film’s second half and proves to be ‘The Water Diviner’s largest flaw.
The first half of ‘The Water Diviner’ is rather perfect. The way that Connor’s journey is grounded and expounded upon is beautifully detailed and heartfelt. There is the right amount of sentiment inserted into every frame, with a true sense of honest restraint, which helps us to completely connect with this man’s determination to bring his son’s home. The way that Crowe unearths Connor is something truly beautiful to witness. There is a point within the film’s first half where a man (Ayshe’s father) says that he could see Connor’s story in his eyes. This has always been the thing about Crowe that drew me to him as an actor; his eyes say so much. His eyes carry the weight of his character’s story, and here he is weighted down by the aching loss of his family and the guilt of parental failure. He’s heartbreaking. The way that the story builds on the rich human understanding from both sides of the battle, as Major Hasan (beautifully portrayed by Yilmaz Erdogan) finds a personal connection to Connor and attempts to help him find his children is rather remarkable. That was one thing I really appreciated about the film. There is a real balance here in the way that it portrays mankind in general in the wake of war. There are no political prejudices, no sides taken. War has cost MANY their lives and MANY mothers their sons, wives their husbands, fathers their families and so the devastating effects of war are seen as a universal theme and not a singular one. For this I comment Crowe.
The second half of the film is where things get a little shaky. This is not to say that the film loses its ability to engage and entertain, because it remains wholly consuming, but there isn’t enough time to develop the love story without making it feel oddly cheap and so the film either needed to add another half hour to character development or just strip the whole idea from the film.
There are moments where you can see Crowe meshing the influences of his previous directors into his style, which provides for a beautifully looking film that, in moments, feels tonally conflicting. He tries to deliver a sharp character portrait, much like something Michael Mann would develop, while inserting the action/adventure tendencies that lie within someone like Ridley Scott and giving us a manipulative romantic center that Ron Howard would develop. These aspects, on their own, are beautiful, but together prove to pick at the film’s consistency.
There is real promise here, but he needs time to work out his own vision.
At the heart of ‘The Water Diviner’ is a story of family, loss, guilt, hope and eventual redemption, and in that light the film is hard to shake. There are so many moments here that are spellbinding, sometimes for very different reasons (I’ll never get the sand storm out of my mind, or the sound of a particular soldier bleeding out). The way that the flashback scenes of the war are given a real grit, even visually, lends itself to an understanding that this war was violent, relentless and heartless, inhuman. It serves as a perfect contrast to the rest of the film’s gloriously beautiful framing. The score, cinematography and acting are all superb, with Crowe delivering a perfectly brooding portrayal of parental desperation, tapping into his ‘Gladiator’ side with such ease. The rest of the cast is uniformly wonderful, with Erdogan being a real standout, and the young Dylan Georgiades stealing many scenes as Ayshe’s wide-eyed son Orhan.
‘The Water Diviner’ is not perfect. It is flawed. BUT, it is not without much merit and it tells a very important story in a way that will affect your heart.