The Water Diviner frankensteins elements from three distinct movie genres: a blood and honor war movie, a fish-out-of-water travelogue and an old timey, on the road adventure flick. Despite borrowing trappings from all of the above genres, it still can’t manage to be interesting or, unsurprisingly, cohesive. It’s like A Good Year collided into a Gallipoli and started napping. The picture is hamstrung to the point of essentially becoming the Australian Unbroken, with director Russell Crowe disproving the old adage “if you can fake it, you can make it.”
For a film about WWI, lost children, sharia law, horse riding and… coffee?, Crowe’s directorial debut is a feckless kitchen sinker short ordered on excitement and emotion, despite the oft circled back upon thumping drums of war and obvious tear duct ploys it pulls throughout. And from cute Turkish lobby boys in a fez to the ear-splitting thump of canons blasting at our heroes escaping over the hills like certified Von Trapps, The Water Diviner is just one miffed attempt after another to win our sympathies and our interest. All it won from me is a few snores.
In addition to directing, Crowe also stars in his movie as a man whose sons are lost to the Australian war effort (a fact that is revealed in a very shitty table-setter of dramatic misappropriations to come) and whose wife offs herself from the grief. The Water Diviner even manages to slip in your classic Crowe cradling the deceased corpse of his wife, a la Gladiator. Score. After forfeiting his car to the local (and supremely snarky might I add) priest, Crowe’s Connor sets of for Turkey to recover the bodies of his three dead boys. Hip hip, hurray!
Jai Courtney appears with a silly mustache (it’s a bad movie, of course Jai is in it) as a Lt. heading up the corpse recovery effort over in Turkey and has little to play with in a role that ultimately just gets forgotten about halfway through the movie. His part is meant to forecast his career (*ba dum tssh*). Once Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is paired up with Crowe as a love interest despite their 16 year age difference (I was also surprised to find out that Crowe was only 51. I could have sworn that he was just about Neeson’s contemporary. Now I get the whole “Russell Crowe’s a fatty” argument…but I digress.) The chemistry between Kurylenko and Crowe is as forced as an arranged marriage (ironic seeing that such issue becomes a contention point) and fails to anchor the romantic element in something believable or worth caring about. Once again, you might as well snooze through these segments (I know I did.)
As Crowe stumbles about, busting chops hither and thither, yelling about his sons (general Fightin’ Round the World fare) he comes to the realization that perhaps all of his offspring have not perished. Zoinks, there’s only two corpses with bullet holes in their heads! Perhaps William or Timothy or whoever it was survived after all! Whodathunkit?! Did I mention that he finds the bodies of his sons by some kind of watery premonition? Because that happens.
Early on in the film, we see Connor water witching; sliding around his property dousing for underground agua sources. Which he promptly discovers, digs a 12 foot hole and voila! a lake sprouts from the ground like a babe from the womb. Connor screams at the sky victorious. He later uses this same technique to find the corpses of his kids. The celebration isn’t as pronounced. I don’t know if we’re supposed to take this whole affair at face value (it is worth mentioning that this is “inspired by true events”) or find it inspiring or spiritual or whatever but it’s just so… ugh.
What follows is a supremely boring search for a foredrawn conclusion we all know to expect only 10 minutes into the movie (like playing connect the dots with only a dozen dots. We know it’s an elephant alright?!). Though he’s mostly solid in front of it, Crowe has some issues behind the camera including horrible CGI (the reported $125 million budget will really make you scratch your head), repetitive scene work and a general lack of oomph. For a man who’s worked with a who’s who of directors in a handful of big box office hits, it’s evident that Crowe has learned very little at the feet of the masters. Indeed, his feature is flat where it should be round, hollow where it should be dense and overstuffed with movie hullabaloo in each and every orafice. The sets and costumes do admittedly look nice in Crowe’s all-encompassing sepia tone though.
Don’t let its multiple AACTA Award wins and nominations fool you, the only thing The Water Diviner can divine is a good siesta.