'The Water Diviner'
Some movie stars have pulled off the transition into directing with impressive results. However, when most stars step behind the camera, they tend to deliver multimillion dollar tributes to their own egos that audiences are forced to suffer through rather than enjoy. When it was announced that Russell Crowe was directing his first feature, I assumed the resulting film would be a big dumb mess. Wouldn’t ya know it, I was right.
Crowe stars as Connor, the titular Water Diviner, a man who can find water in the desert with a stick and magical intuition. We see him pull off such a feat in the first scene to justify the title, but after that the skill is never mentioned again. Instead, we learn that Connor’s three sons died in battle of Gallipoli. Their bodies were never found, and his grief-stricken wife eventually kills herself.
That forces Connor to head to Istanbul on a quest to find his boys’ bodies. First stop, a hotel run by single mother Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), who hates Australians thanks to the war, but just can’t take her eyes off the big galoot and his Aussie charms. Next stop, the battlefield where his boys were killed to argue furiously with Australian and Turkish army representatives about helping find the bodies. Nothing comes of it, but two bodies are found anyways. A Turkish officer (Yilmaz Erdogan) just might know where the third boy is, and he might even be alive. That means it’s time to hit the road for adventure and god willing get back to the hotel afterwards just in time for a Love Conquers All finale.
It’s hard to say why Russell Crowe was so passionate about this placid screenplay that he felt like he had to direct it. Maybe it was just the best script he was offered and he figured, “Hell, even I can direct this crap. Let’s get two paychecks!” Either way, the resulting mess teeters past the point of nostalgic homage into the realm of old-fashioned melodrama. It’s a culture clash drama driven by stereotypes so extreme that it must be just as offensive to Australians as to Turkish audiences. The romance is so tediously drawn-out that viewers will want to scream at the screen begging for it to wrap up. Eventually, Crowe tosses in a few action scenes simply because even he must have gotten bored and decided, “Why not? Let’s blow some stuff up. Maybe that will manufacture some entertainment or excitement.” It doesn’t.
As a director, Crowe proves to be surprisingly competent. Sure, he knows that he likes to swirl the camera around more than he knows how to do it (and his opening sequence is an embarrassing rip-off of the opening of ‘There Will Be Blood’ with unnecessary sentimentality), but ‘The Water Diviner’ at least looks like a real movie and that’s a pleasant surprise. As an actor, Crowe is sadly still stuck in his later lazy period. He once was an intensely committed performer capable of commanding the screen in ‘Gladiator’ or disappearing into a repressed mess in ‘The Insider’. Then, somewhere over the last decade, the man stopped trying and just coasts by on movie star charm. Crowe still has that quality, but given that he’s actually a gifted actor when he can be bothered to put in the effort, it’s endlessly frustrating to watch him flounder around in indistinguishable hero roles.
If Crowe does one thing right in his directorial debut, it’s to craft a movie as pleasantly lazy and indistinguishable as his central performance. If that was Crowe’s only goal with ‘The Water Diviner’, then his film is a wild success. Unfortunately, that’s not the sort of success that any audience will appreciate, other than the few remaining hardcore Russell Crowe apologists.