DVD review: Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner

When played as pure adventure, this story, set around the Gallipoli campaign in the first world war, has some cracking moments

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 5:44pm

By birth a New Zealander, Russell Crowe has been claimed by Australians as one of their own and he's as patriotic as they come, too, when it comes to his adopted land. And the Oscar-winning actor wears his heart on his sleeve in his feature film directorial debut, framing his story around the battle that helped define Australia, at least in Western terms of it being a modern nation.

The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 was a disaster, turning the Turkish peninsula into a slaughterhouse that saw massive casualties on both sides of the trenches. This year being the 100th anniversary of the landings there by Australian forces, the film's release is timely and shows marketing smarts. And Crowe's treatment of the sense of innocence lost that surrounded the campaign is when his film reaches its heights.

Crowe plays a man of the outback, a water diviner who can find where wells of water are buried deep below the desert using a few metal sticks and his intuition.

It's a harsh life at best, but whatever hope for the future his family has is torn asunder when the first world war breaks out, and his three boys rush to enlist. The depictions of the hell they are thrown into are carefully crafted, so too is the sense of helplessness that shadows the father who, of course, can do nothing to save them from whatever fate has in store.

But the film takes a turn when the father takes it upon himself to head to Turkey to find some sort of closure. He falls in with a widowed Turkish woman (Olga Kurylenko) and the mood turns towards pure melodrama. Crowe seems to want at first to drum home the premise that "we were all the same" - on both sides of that war - but then paints a version of Turkey, and of Turks of the time, that's more puerile than profound. For long periods it strips the film of its dignity as this clumsy attempt at romance is played out.

Still, when played as pure adventure, The Water Diviner has some cracking moments, as when Crowe's character is drawn into the political maelstrom that was post-war Turkey, those initial Gallipoli scenes, and in particular an early scene when the father and his lads are faced with nature at its worst.

Extras: making-of and Gallipoli featurettes

The Water Diviner Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko Director: Russell Crowe