[Screen It]


(2015) (Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko) (R)

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Drama: In the aftermath of WWI, an Australian farmer travels to Turkey in hopes of finding his sons who were believed to have perished in the Battle of Gallipoli.
It's 1919 and Joshua Connor (RUSSELL CROWE) is an Australian farmer with a divining penchant for finding water in what's an otherwise parched part of the country. But much to the chagrin of his wife, Eliza (JACQUELINE MCKENZIE), he's been unable to find their three sons, Arthur (RYAN CORR), Edward (JAMES FRASER) and Henry (BEN O'TOOLE), who they last saw before they headed off to fight in WWI. Reports are that all three perished in the Battle of Gallipoli four years earlier, and anguished by the lack of closure, Eliza ends up taking her own life.

Determined to fulfill his promise to her to bring back their boys for burial, Joshua travels to Istanbul where a 10-year-old boy, Orhan (DYLAN GEORGIADES), manages to convince the foreigner to stay at a small hotel run by his mother, Ayshe (OLGA KURYLENKO), and her brother-in-law, Omer (STEVE BASTONI). Ayshe isn't happy to see the outsider, what with her husband having never returned from the same war fought against the British and their allies, but Orhan takes an immediate liking to Joshua and hopes that he'll be able to find his father.

Despite being denied a travel permit to head to Gallipoli, Joshua circumvents the rules and manages to get to the battlefield where he ends up meeting former war enemies Major Hasan (YILMAZ ERDOGAN) and Lt. Col. Cyril Hughes (JAI COURTNEY) who are now working together to find and identify some of the roughly two-thousand Brits and seven-thousand Turks who perished in the war. Cyril initially wants Joshua sent back, but Hasan senses something decent in the Aussie and agrees to assist on his quest. From that point on, and as he gets to know Ayshe better, Joshua does what he can to find out what happened to his sons and, if they all perished during the war, return their remains to their homeland.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I have no idea how we first learned about doing so -- whether it was from a TV show, movie, friends or our parents giving us something to do as a distraction and thus keep us out of their hair, but I distinctly remember as a kid trying to find water via a so-called divining rod.

No, I didn't grow up in the desert or some other parched part of the world, and there wasn't any major drought occurring. In fact, water was plentiful, be that from any sink or down at the creek where we often spent our summer days.

Nonetheless, I recall walking around the yard carrying a Y-shaped stick from a tree where the single end was supposed to move when you came across water. I don't recall it ever working, but I also don't remember digging any deep holes to test the effectiveness of said locating tool.

Russell Crowe's character in "The Water Diviner" apparently practiced more than yours truly, as the film shows him indeed finding, digging for, and striking H20 in the parched Outback using his dual divining rods. Upon his return home, his wife tells him to read a bedtime story for their boys. We then realize his initial reluctance to doing so stems from the fact that he's reading to empty beds and we then learn that all three of their sons apparently perished in the Battle of Gallipoli four years earlier.

And so begins this tale of a father's quest to find and return his boys to their homeland. Apparently believing his divining powers extend to finding human remains, he sets off for Turkey where he encounters a likely war widow (Olga Kurylenko) and her precocious 10-year-old son (Dylan Georgiades) before heading to the battlefield where former enemies (Yilmaz Erdogan and Jai Courtney) are now working together to locate and identify the long-anonymously buried dead.

As in many of his previous roles, Crowe brings a credible and heart-felt gravitas to his character, and one can easily feel his pain and empathize with that and his quest. But here he takes on another role, and that's of also being the director (working from the screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios).

Alas, despite having appeared in some great films and worked with tremendous filmmakers, his first attempt behind the camera sometimes comes off as clunky, doesn't feel fully formed, and has an aura of trying too hard and yet failing at being an epic sort of tale.

It's not horrible, mind you, but the slow-motion footage, montages and various flashbacks don't always sport a polished veneer. And the subplot where Kurylenko's character changes from hating Crowe's to understanding and then liking him feels a bit too predictable and spot-on.

At the same time, his friendly relationship with Erdogan's Turkish officer doesn't feel fully fleshed out as the story and its developments lurch forward in awkward spurts at times. Again, none of it's awful, and if anything, the cinematography alone is worth the price of admission.

But you can tell Crowe is swinging for the fences (or, to keep the previous analogy going, digging for a fresh supply of fresh water) and sadly doesn't quite get there in terms of delivering the epic this was obviously intended to be. Perhaps he needs a new cinematic divining rod. "The Water Diviner" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 20, 2015 / Posted April 24, 2015

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