Directed by: Russell Crowe
Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan
Rating: 3 Stars
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad that so little is being heard about this week’s Hollywood release, The Water Diviner. On the one hand, it’s a shame that there isn’t more of a buzz around this fine film. On the other hand, not hearing so much about it, or having it hyped up with too many expectations, makes finding out just how good it really is, a delightful surprise.
Based on the book of the same name, the film begins with lone farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) out in the vast, desolate Australian Outback. Connor has a special gift — he can divine the presence of water underground, a precious gift in a land prone to long spells without rain. His three sons — the youngest only 17 — had all enlisted to serve with the Allied Forces during World War. During the Battle of Gallipoli (the fight between the Allies and the Turkish forces for control of the Gallipoli peninsula during the final days of the Ottoman Empire), all three are presumed killed in action. Four years later, Connor and his wife are struggling to keep up the pretence that the boys will be back some day; unable to bear the loss of her children, his wife commits suicide — but not before entreating Connor to find the boys and bring them back home. He vows that he will bring back their bodies and give them a proper burial.
And so Connor leaves one beautiful land for another — from the desolate open stretches of the Outback, he heads to the crowded, colourful streets of Constantinople, Turkey. Here he finds shelter at a hotel run by a widow, Ayshe (beautiful, young, spirited; played by Olga Kurylenko), and her little son Orhan. Even as they deal with historical resentments (the Turkish people are now officially “friends” with the English and their allies, but the wounds inflicted during the War haven’t been forgotten) and cultural clashes (“you don’t understand how things are in the West/East”) Ayshe and Connor are attracted to each other and do become friends.
In the meantime, Connor is also trying to find a way to get to Gallipoli; it has been declared a restricted zone as the British and the Turks work to uncover and give proper burials to the battlefield’s dead. Connor also runs into the Turkish Army’s Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), who is now assisting the burial effort, and offers some help along the way. And Connor’s own gift of diving water, he now finds, comes in handy indeed.
Throughout his poignant quest, there are flashbacks: Connor reading to the three boys from the Arabian Nights, protecting them from a fierce dust-storm, and then the three young men — still boys, really — riding off on their horses into a war they cannot even begin to imagine the horrors of, believing that what they’re going towards is their certain glory rather than death. Then there are the flashbacks to battle scenes, the brothers fighting together, facing bullets for each other.
While most of the film — Russell Crowe’s first directorial venture — has a wonderfully authentic feel, it is these battle sequences that have been captured the best. In one scene of a battlefield that is now effectively a graveyard, there’s a sound of steady moaning from men not yet dead. Long after darkness settles in, making them invisible, their moaning continues, the sound of souls lost to everything but pain.
The cast turns in uniformly fine performances; Kurylenko’s Ayshe is perhaps the only one that is a bit patchy, but she is bewitching on the whole. The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie showcases the beauty of both the Australian Outback and Turkey. You’ll feel very much, that you are in these places that are being shown.
While most of the visuals of Turkey tend to enforce what tourists might already know of it (the bazaars, the Blue Mosque), there is also a chance here to learn a little bit of its history: How everyone wanted a piece of the once powerful Ottoman Empire over by various powers — the British, the French, the Greeks (in one clever dialogue, Major Hasan asks Connor why he allowed his sons to enlist, what was Australia was promised in return for sending soldiers. When Connor replies, “Nothing”, Major Hasan remarks, “You got nothing? Maybe we should be doing more business with the Australians”); how World War I segued into the Greco-Turkish that lasted from 1919 to 1922; and the movement for Turkish independence.
However, as much as this film touches on nations and empires and forces beyond the control of ordinary human beings, it equally brings to the fore the heroism those same, ordinary human beings are capable of. Ultimately, The Water Diviner is a film about love and families and friendships — and the extraordinary things you’re willing to do for them....