Synopsis: An Australian man travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons.
Stars: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Steve Bastoni, Ryan Corr, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz
Director: Russell Crowe
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: There’s a moment in Ron Howard’s 1995 space drama Apollo 13 where, in trying to find a solution to the problem the stranded astronauts are facing, NASA technicians dump boxes of equipment onto a table and one of them says “We’ve got to find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that.” I mention this particular scene because it kept playing through my mind while watching director/star Russell Crowe’s tedious drama, The Water Diviner.
Poor Matt Villa. As the editor for this missed opportunity of a film I can imagine Crowe depositing the dailies on his desk and commanding Villa craft a movie out of Crowe’s lugubrious and bloviating historical shoulda-been-better epic. It’s not like Villa couldn’t do it…this is the guy that brought some sense of order to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in 2013 so I can only place the blame squarely at Crowe’s hulking feet and a narrative-less script form two Andrews (Knight and Anastasios).
I’d purposely avoided watching any trailers for The Water Diviner because as of late movie previews in general seem to favor more spoilers than ever before but I was interested to see what Crowe would do with the true-ish story of a man from Down Under that travels to Turkey and the post-wartime shores of Gallipoli as he searches for his enlisted sons he believes are dead. There’s a good movie at the heart of The Water Diviner, which makes it doubly depressing that it’s such a clumsy and yawn-inducing affair.
Running under two hours but feeling three times as long, Crowe doesn’t bother with any kind of character introductions…which is all well and good until full understanding of the characters becomes a necessity to figure out what the hell is going on. Though the three sons play a pivotal role in the latter half of the film and it’s clear we’re supposed to feel some sort of fatherly bond that drives Crowe’s character to follow his quest, there’s precious little onscreen that gives us any indication why we should be invested in Crowe getting the answers he came for.
There’s a lot of sand and dust to trek through and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (an Oscar winner for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) captures the period setting nicely…until Crowe revs up the action and it appears Lesnie tied the camera to the end of a string and started lasso-ing it above the heads of the actors. Production design is generally spot-on, from Tess Schofield’s (The Sapphires) costumes to David Hirschfelder’s tonally observant score.
If only the script and performances had matched the art direction. Crowe (Noah, Man of Steel) never met a character he couldn’t grunt through but he seems particularly lost at sea here. Perhaps pulling double duty left his character development as an afterthought, but you’d be hard pressed to remember that this guy won an Oscar and has been nominated for two more. For a man that’s worked with some of the best directors in Hollywood and abroad, it’s truly amazing how little craft is displayed as both director and actor of The Water Diviner. This had the potential to be an epic drama but just winds up being epically boring.
That’s really the main problem with the film…it’s so surreally uninteresting that I was gob smacked to read that it won Australia’s equivalent of Best Picture (well, it tied with The Babadook) and netted a host of nominations. I chalk it up to hometown devotion for Crowe but it’s quite undeserved. I feel for talented actors like Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher), and an impressive Yilmaz Erdogan who are saddled with thankless roles. Kurylenko in particular should have just worn a sign around her neck that says “Obligatory Feisty Female Character Desisted to be a Random Love Interest in 5…4…3…2…1” for her cliché-ridden role.
The film is all over the map. One moment it’s like an Aussie spin on Saving Private Ryan and the next it’s Zero Dark Thirty Down Under before incredulously turning into a Casablanca no one asked for. Near the end of the film there’s a bonkers scene where Crowe teaches his would-be adversaries the rules of cricket in a rusty old train car minutes before a slaughter erupts and Crowe has only, you guessed it, a cricket mallet to defend himself. Then there’s the scene where Crowe magically locates a grave he couldn’t possibly know was there…sure he’s a water diviner (a gift shown in the first five minutes and never mentioned again) but now he’s a body diviner? Gulp. Next please.
A movie that thinks so highly of itself it doesn’t make any effort to explain, well, anything is one that is ultimately hard to swallow and should be discarded. So many things in The Water Diviner just happen “because” that it all begins to wash over you and renders you numb by the time the credits blessedly appear. I even hated the font used for the titles and subtitles…