Director: Russell Crowe
Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Isabel Lucas, Ryan Corr, Cem Yilmaz, Yilmaz Erdogan
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Violence)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 7 May 2015
Synopsis: Russell Crowe's directorial debut, THE WATER DIVINER, is an epic adventure set four years after the devastating battle of Gallipoli during World War I. Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey in 1919 to discover the fate of his three sons, reported missing in action. Initially blocked by military bureaucracy, his determination unwavering, he is helped first by the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) who owns the hotel he takes in Istanbul, and then by a Turkish Officer who had fought against Connor’s sons. Holding on to hope, Connor and Major Hasan must travel across the war-torn landscape to find the truth, and for Joshua to find his own peace.
Welcome to the club, Russell Crowe. The 51 year old actor (who was born in New Zealand, but has lived most of his life in Australia) is the latest member in showbiz to direct himself in a movie. How does this first time director fare? Is he more of a Clint Eastwood (2004’s Million Dollar Baby) and George Clooney (2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck), or on the other end of the scale like Roberto Benigni (2002’s creepily bad Pinocchio) and Tom Green (2001’s terribly unfunny Freddy Got Fingered)?
Crowe, best known for his Academy Award winning performance in the epic Gladiator (2000), has decided to add another line item to his resume – after dabbled in film producing (most Hollywood actors have produced a film or two these days), sports (he’s a big fan of the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league football team) and music (he, ahem, sang in 2012’s Les Miserables as Inspector Javert).
Based on the book of the same name written by Andrew Anastasios and Dr Meaghan Wilson Anastasios, this historical drama sees Crowe taking on the role of the protagonist who travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli (read more about it on the worldwide web) to try and locate his three missing sons. There, the Australian farmer and water diviner gets involved with the local military, and also finds time to be entangled in a romantic relationship with a war widowed woman. Somewhere in the mix, there’s also an adorable kid to tug at your heartstrings.
Shot in Australiaand Turkey, this film is aesthetically pleasing. The breathtaking landscapes are beautifully captured on camera, thanks to cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy). Unfortunately, this is also the final film from the Australian, who died recently of a heart attack.
Clocking a runtime of 112 minutes, the film does feel dreary at times. Considering that the historical setting may not be one that most viewers in this part of the world is familiar with, viewers may feel the need to follow the sequence of events to be aptly engaged. The story follows a somewhat predictable arc – the aftermath of war and how a parent deals with the loss of a child are themes audiences have seen elsewhere. The melodrama put on the big screen here offers nothing excitingly or innovatively new, so movie goers have to look elsewhere to stay interested throughout the film’s two hours.
What one can’t deny though, is the sincerity and effort Crowe has put into this project. It may be a vanity exercise, but looking at the sheer work put into ensuring a polished set of production values is enough to Crowe’s determination to make this film work on display. A capable ensemble cast was rounded up for this film – Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) as a Turkish woman with a heartbreaking past, Yilmaz Erdogan (the 47 year old actor was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his performance) as a kind Turkish officer and Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, A Good Day to Die Hard) as a captain who helps Crowe locate his sons.
The production did fairly well at the 4th Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, taking home three awards, including sharing the Best Film accolade with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. This should already be a confidence booster for Crowe. Here’s hoping that he will continue his passion to helm projects behind the camera, and along the way, get a surer footing of his directing style.
(While offering nothing new, Russell Crowe’s first foray into directing is still a commendable effort which features strong performances and lush production values)
Review by John Li