Friday, April 24, 2015

The Water Diviner

A Sensitive Crowe Touches Hearts
Director: Russell Crowe
Studio: Universal Studios/Warner Bros. Pictures

Cast: Russell Crowe, Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko, Ryan Corr, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Dylan Georgiades, Dan Wyllie, Robert Mammone, Jacqueline McKenzie

Review by James Colt Harrison

Opening in its native Australia more than four months ago, The Water Diviner was eligible for the Australian Awards. It won Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Yilmaz Erdogan), Best Costume Design (Tess Schofield), and was nominated for Best Actor (Crowe), Best Supporting Actress (Jacqueline McKenzie), Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Anastasios, Andrew Knight), Best Production Design (Christopher Kennedy), Best Editing (Matt Villa), and Best Visual Effects (David Booth, Prue Fletcher, Marc Varisco, Adam Paschke). It was embraced by the Australians, and it is now set to be admired by the rest of the world.

Making his directorial debut, actor and Oscar® winner Russell Crowe is a hero in his native Australia, and he’s a top world-wide star as well. Taking on this historical drama is a big task, and Crowe has handled it deftly and with a big dose of sensitivity.

Set in 1919 just after the end of World War I, Crowe plays a common farmer named Joshua Connor, who has a gift for “divining” water in dry areas, with a wife and three sons. Joshua raised the boys to be patriotic and good men who will do their part for their country. Five years previously to the beginning scenes, the boys—Arthur (Ryan Corr), Henry (Ben O’Toole) and Edward (James Fraser) left for the war in Gallipoli, Turkey and have not returned and are considered to be dead. Joshua’s wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) is wracked with grief and commits suicide, thus convincing Joshua to bring the boys’ bodies home to rest beside their mother. Ms. McKenzie is quite effective in her madness and sorrow and was nominated as Best Supporting Actress in the Australian Awards as she completely conveyed the grief of a mother who loses all her children. It’s a sad beginning, but it leads us to fleshing out the story and Joshua’s quest to find his boys, dead or alive.

Joshua makes a pilgrimage to Turkey to find his three sons and to learn their fate and determine if they are still alive. In stunning flashbacks to the war at Gallipoli in 1915 at various moments throughout the film, the audience may be horrified at the intensity of the scenes. Guns explode in your ear, soldiers are graphically shown being blown to bits, and bombs wipe out entire regiments. We know this was done to show the uselessness of war and the damage it does to young soldiers, but it may be a little too realistic for many moviegoers. In fact, the war scenes are so intense and graphic, they may be too frightening for youngsters.

Traveling to Constantinople (now Istanbul) must have been quite a trek in 1919 before the days of jet plane travel. It probably caused Joshua to sail for months to get from Australia to Turkey by ship. Weary, yet still retaining his innate gentleness, Joshua finds a family hotel that just happens to be run by the unbelievably gorgeous Muslim widow Ayshe (Russian-born Olga Kurylenko playing a Turk). She conveniently has a young son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades, whose name appears to be Irish-Greek) who immediately bonds with Crowe’s character. The boy is desperately looking for a daddy, and Joshua fills that role perfectly. The scenes between the two are touching and heartwarming. It also serves to bring Ayshe and Joshua together, although any relationship between them seemed tabu in that culture and times.

Although it is forbidden to visit the killing fields of Gallipoli, Joshua hires a fishing boat and swims ashore. There he meets Turkish military officer Major Hasan (the wonderful Turkish star Yilmaz Erdogan), affable Sgt. Jemal (Cim Yilmaz) and Australian officer Cyril Hughes (dashing newcomer Jai Courtney sporting an intense moustache). They are there to protect the site and recover casualties. They throw roadblocks in Joshua’s way, but it does not stop him from looking for his son’s bodies, if they are there. Special note must be made of actor Ryan Corr’s turn as Joshua’s oldest son Arthur. In flashbacks to the horror on the battlefield, Corr gives an absolutely heart-breaking performance when he must deal with his two brother’s fate in war.

The film is well-crafted and all the actors are excellent and effective, despite language differences. We hear Arabic, Turkish, English, Australian slang, and a touch of Greek, making the film truly international in flavor. Crowe gives one of his most subdued performances in recent years, yet he elicits sympathy from the audience by containing his grief inside but showing it through his expressive eyes.

Special mention must be made about cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings). What he does with his color cameras shows a true artist at work. The scenes in all countries—whether they be on dry desert land, turquoise colored oceans, dense green forests or the fairy-tale minarets of Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul are exquisite. Lesnie’s camera work becomes part of the story and envelopes the viewer with its breathtaking artistry.

The picture is well worth seeing for those who are Crowe fans and who love re-living history.

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