A Water Diviner by definition is a person who searches for underground water using a divining rod. Not a very romantic notion when put in its simplest terms. But while many believe water divining is simply a superstition, others believe that a successful site for a well can be discovered by a person gifted with an the ability for divination. In The Water Diviner, directed by and starring Russell Crowe, we are asked to be the latter. We are asked to believe.
In short, this film can be wrapped up very easily in one short sentence; an Australian man travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons. But the film, like the very idea of water divination itself is far more complex than this and deserves some deeper dwelling.
The film opens with Connor (Crowe) walking the red dust earth of his outback property with dowsing sticks on the hunt for water. He inevitably finds it, and digs a well deep into the ground letting it fill with the nectar from beneath the earth. Immediately we are presented with a man who has the ability to find things hidden from plain sight. We care about him, we’re on his side.
Back at the farmhouse, Connor’s wife Eliza is barely keeping house, unable to deal with the disappearance and presumed death of their three sons at Gallipoli. Unhinged and unhindered by the news of their deaths, she goes on as if the boys are still living with the couple. It is evident that the marriage is strained as a result of her denial and she openly blames her husband for the boys’ fate and challenges him as to why he hasn’t gone to find them.
Circumstances eventually compel him to travel to Turkey and to try to obtain legal passage to Gallipoli where he hopes to find his sons’ bodies and return them home. Upon arriving in Istanbul, he takes a room at a local boarding house where he meets the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a modern woman suffering the constraints of a very old-fashioned culture. They bond throughout the film, but their burgeoning love story plays second fiddle to Connor’s quest to find his lost sons.
He is denied legal passage to Gallipoli and must find other means to arrive at his destination. Undaunted by the war office’s denial of his request, he does find an alternate route to Gallipoli where his sheer will and determination wins the respect of the Lieutenant-Colonel there (Jai Courtney) who with encouragement from the Major of the Turkish army (Yilmaz Erdogan), eventually agrees to help him.
Flashbacks of the battle in which the boys are fatally injured are confused, brutal and at their climax; chilling. This film points to the hopelessness of war yet never preaches it. It doesn’t take anything away from the sacrifice millions of men made in doing what they believed to be their duty either. Crowe keeps the focus on the strength of family in times of crisis and the limitless bounds of a father’s love for his children.
This film is a quest film at heart but one that soon develops into a buddy film of sorts; an almost Western, with Crowe at the centre as the Lone Ranger and Erdogan as his Tonto. Crowe is at his peak here, diving headfirst into each scene with a fervour that might belong to a younger, greener actor juxtaposed against the poise and precision of a veteran surgeon of the Craft. He is in a word; a delight in this role.
Writers Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios make easy work for Crowe with their delicate storyline that veers into whimsy and often tugs at the heartstrings. Crowe’s direction is sharp and bold without being self-indulgent. This film is not without cheese but the stronger scenes, which at times are very difficult to watch, make us forgive the weaker more contrived ones.
Look out for Isabel Lucas as Natalia, one of the boarding house inhabitants. Her role is small but she nails every aspect of it with a strength and certainty that belies her years and experience. Dan Wyllie also shines in his minor role as Captain Charles Brindley but perhaps the most heartbreaking and provoking performance belongs to Ryan Corr, who plays Connor’s eldest son; Art. Corr brings a simultaneous strength and vulnerability to the character of Art that is compelling to watch.
To be fair, we are asked to take a lot on faith in this film. Connor is led by his gut, by an indefinable ability to find things that are literally buried deep within the earth, that are metaphorically buried deep within himself. The Water Diviner is an insightful, warm and important look at a different Gallipoli story, one that will stay with you long after the proverbial curtains have closed.
It is a triumph for Crowe and definitely worth a look.
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