Who ya gonna call? Russell “dude who already hates phones” Crowe!
After the presumed death of his three sons in WWI and the sudden suicide of his wife, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) has nowhere to go but overseas and find his kids’ bodies. He’s not happy about it, but to abide by his late-wife’s wishes, he’ll do anything. So then, Joshua travels to Turkey where he hears stories of heroism and bravery about his two sons who were tragically killed on the battlefield, but then again, he also hears them from the man who had them killed in the first place (Yılmaz Erdoğan). Even though the two may not have much in common, the Major ends up assisting Joshua on his search for his sons and, believe it or not, there’s a rumor going around that one of them may actually be alive; the only problem is that no one knows where he’s at. Joshua, with all of his heart and pride, decides to set out on his own which, more or less, puts him into some very dangerous, scary situations. Also, let’s not forget to mention that Joshua begins to fall a bit head-over-heels for a lonely hotel-worker (Olga Kurylenko).
There’s a part of me that wants to give a lot of credit to Russell Crowe for stepping out of his comfort-zone, going big, going home and being as ambitious as humanly possible for his directorial debut. Most actors-turned-directors feel more inclined to just keep their projects short, sweet and simple-to-the-point where they don’t spend too much money, nor do they have to worry about having too much on their plate. I’m fine with these movies, but sometimes, it’s nice to see a larger scope of a movie coming from someone who may, or may not have any clue what they’re doing behind the camera.
However, in the Water Diviner‘s case, it’s a bit of a mess. And an uninteresting one at that.
Most of this comes down to the fact that Crowe, despite all of his best intentions, doesn’t quite have it down yet as to what makes a movie flow so well and smoothly. In terms of the pace, the movie seems to flirt with the idea of being a gritty, ugly and violent war picture, but then, at another second, will slow things up so suddenly to focus on some romance and it’s a huge, drastic change. It almost feels like Crowe wanted to make one movie, and then halfway through it, decided that he wanted to make another; which wouldn’t have been so bad had both movies actually been well worth the watch, but they’re kind of not.
The only reason any of them are worth getting invested in is because of Crowe’s performance that, like usual, shows off his skill for mixing tenderness with masculinity and doing it in a way that we don’t too often see from most actors. Sure, we all know that Crowe can kick some ass when need be, but we so rarely see the softer side to some of his characters and here, as Joshua Connor, Crowe gets a chance to act all of that out and show that this man, deep down inside, is truly hurting. Though the adventure he sets out on isn’t all that exciting or eventful, it’s at least somewhat compelling because of the fact that we care early on for Connor and hope that he gets what he wants; whether that be closure, or happiness, or whatever.
But once again, it’s hard to judge a movie based on the lead performance, especially that lead performer just so happens to be the one directing it all.
Which is a shame because Crowe is dealing with some hard-earned issues and feelings here; any movie involving a father searching for his own sons on the battlefield is touching, it’s just that it’s placed in a movie that’s pretty uneven. One second, it’s an anti-war flick explaining how the battlefield makes most humans into angry, malicious animals; another, it’s trying to be a thought-piece about foreign powers coming together and settling scores; and then, of course, there’s the ham-handed love story that we can see coming from a mile away. All of these ideas are toyed around with and while Crowe gives just about each and every one plenty of attention, they never add up to much except for just a jumble that could have easily been handled better.
What ultimately ends up happening though, is that it seems like Crowe just had too much on his plate to begin with. Had he settled down and at least focused on one portion of this story, everything probably would have been all fine and dandy. Though Olga Kurylenko is a solidly lovely and spicy presence on-screen, her character serves no purpose other than just “foreigner that Russell Crowe can shack up when all is said and done”. Having seen To the Wonder, I already know that Kurylenko is capable of much more than that and while she’s fine here, she’s in the middle of a movie that throws her around whenever it sees fit.
I can’t say much about Jai Courtney here, especially since he’s hardly ever around, but it is nice to see him showing up in pieces that don’t just call on him to be a bad-ass. It’s a solid casting-choice on the part of Crowe, but ultimately, it leads to nothing because it’s so clearly Crowe’s movie and nobody else’s. Which is, yet again, not such a terrible thing because Crowe is superb in the lead role, but there’s a feeling that maybe Crowe could have just been the lead here and allowed somebody else to take the reigns of director. Because honestly, Crowe just may not be ready yet. With time, though, he may.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Consensus: Uneven in terms of tone and messy in terms of handling of subplots, the Water Diviner finds Russell Crowe taking on duties as director and while he gives it his all, sadly, the results aren’t as up-to-par as his solid performance is.
5 / 10