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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Go Crowe Go

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday May 14, 06:43 pm
Subhead: Russell’s first directorial effort is pretty decent

The Water Diviner
3 out of 5

Russell Crowe gets no respect — even though he cleaned up his act and became less irascible quite a while ago. He’s still being mocked mercilessly (and undeservedly) because of his singing in Les Misérables, and is often thought of as box-office poison these days — in spite of all his hits, not to mention of low-key winners like Noah and Robin Hood.

But he remains unfazed, and is now trying his hand as a director. His debut feature, The Water Diviner, is traditional to a fault — built on conventional values, sweeping landscapes and the power of determination. It’s as earnest as it gets.

Crowe stars as Connor, an Australian farmer trying to keep it together following the deaths of his three sons in the WWI Battle of Gallipoli. His wife’s suicide pushes him to go looking for the remains of his kids in Turkey, but the task proves harder than expected, as the British bureaucracy and a burgeoning conflict between Turks and Greeks undercut his efforts at every corner.

But he’s not alone: Connor befriends a local urchin and his beautiful mother (Olga Kurylenko), who’ve been left in a vulnerable position after the death of her husband during the war. He also finds other honourable men from different backgrounds (one of them a Turkish Major) who are willing to lend a hand. Through them, the farmer discovers his eldest son could be alive after all.

Shot like a David Lean movie by Andrew Lesnie (the Lord of the Rings cinematographer, who died only a couple of weeks ago: RIP), The Water Diviner is handsome. From the Australian outback to the rocky Turkish coast, the film screams epic. It’s clear that of all his frequent collaborators, Ridley Scott is the one who’s influenced Crowe the most.

It looks great — but there are problems.

Connor’s sheepishly romantic relationship with the Turkish widow is perfunctory, and Kurylenko has problems selling a character that’s a compendium of clichés. Some affectations are a bit too obvious, like the fact Connor used to read Arabian Nights to his kids, or the fact he travels with a cricket bat (we get it: you’re Australian — big shock!).

The movie comes alive whenever Connor is following a lead regarding the whereabouts of his possibly alive son. Some bouts of violence take place, but the film’s real conflict is within the protagonist. The supposed villains of the piece, the Turkish, are actually complex and often sympathetic. Meanwhile, the British — supposedly on Connor’s side — are portrayed as indifferent to his plight. (And the Greeks get the shortest shrift: due to time constraints, they appear as a nuance-free, brooding and angry bunch.)

Crowe is slightly subversive in his portrait of colonialism. The derision that characterizes the treatment of Connor can be extrapolated to the relationship between England and Australia. The Battle of Gallipoli is widely considered the event that triggered a national consciousness in the former British colony — not in small part because they were left to their own devices against a formidable adversary. (The church doesn’t come out particularly well either.)

The Water Divineris a promising start for the directing portion of Russell Crowe’s career. He’s got foibles to clean up, but he can clearly tell a story. 

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