Australian director Peter Weir’s moving 1981 film Gallipoli, which recreated the Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ doomed attempt to take the Turkish peninsula during World War I, shrouded the Turks in anonymity. They were bullets and bombs in the fog of war.
Now, a fellow Australian — New Zealand-born Russell Crowe — paints the same events with a slightly more inclusive brush in his directorial feature debut, The Water Diviner, a big, old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing blend of war and subdued romance that attempts to show that average Aussies and Turks were victims of global circumstances beyond their control.
Crowe is Connor, a farmer in 1919 Australia who, four years earlier, had encouraged his three sons to sail off to join the Great War for “king and country.” But they are thought to have been killed at Gallipoli, their remains left behind as so much detritus.
Connor -- who has the remarkable ability to find water underneath the sun-scorched earth of the Australian bush -- promises to find them and bring them home, even though it means a three-month ocean journey to Turkey and then dealing with the British military, the Turkish military, and a country still in the grip of violence. He’s helped by two Turkish officers — played by Yilmaz Erdogan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) and Cem Yilmaz — and stymied by a British captain (Dan Wyllie) who wants to send him back to Australia. It also helps that he’s good in a fight, can ride a horse like a jockey, and has time for a little flirtation with the woman running the hotel where he’s staying, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko).
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Though theoretically based on a true story of an Australian man who went to Turkey after the war in search of his sons’ remains, there are many moments that strain credibility — and its supposed inaccuracies have been cataloged online. There are just way too many coincidences and contrivances to be believable.
Despite that, Crowe, as an actor, displays both strength and vulnerability, while as a director, he keeps things moving fast enough to make even the most head-scratching events palatable. It’s also beautifully shot and the trench-warfare scenes are harrowing.
There’s at least one better film on the topic — the aforementioned Gallipoli — but The Water Diviner has its moments, even if it’s grasp of reality is all wet.
Cary Darling, 817 390-7571
The Water Diviner
Director: Russell Crowe
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko
Rated: R (war violence, disturbing images)
Running time: 111 min.