It’s all about finding water, the water that is your soul.
Divining where underground water flows to feed his parched land in Australia, farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) taps into the mystic force within.
The same power he used for dowsing, he channeled to seek his dead sons in Gallipoli, where over 200,000 perished – a battlefield outside Constantinople, the second Rome, capital of Christendom and Islam, in Turkey, a country he can’t even locate in the map.
Exactly a hundred years after the historic battle which molded the national identity of Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand, Crowe chose to tackle a film about the subject for his directorial debut.
The 51-year old multi-awarded actor has grown up around film sets, starting at age six (his parents worked as caterers in Australia’s film and TV industry) although this was his first time to stand behind the camera as a director of a full-length movie.
The role of Connor fits the brooding hunk Crowe, who excels in depicting wounded, powerful personas.
Connor sends off his young sons (Ryan Corr, Ben O’Toole and James Fraser) to Gallipoli as if it’s one of those “Arabian Nights” bed time adventure that he reads to them each night.
And the Turks slaughtered the three brothers.
Unable to deal with the loss, Connor’s wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) drowns herself five years later. He swears he will bring the boys home to rest with their mother and sets off for Istanbul.
Surprisingly, the Turkish actors – Yılmaz Erdoğan, who played Major Hasan, the battle-scarred sympathetic officer who helped Connor search for his sons’ bodies, and Cem Yılmaz, who played Sergeant Jemal – were both box-office hit comedians in their native land.
But both came off very convincingly in their dead serious roles when transplanted in Crowe’s indie film masquerading as a historic drama.
As a director, Crowe showed a mastery for visuals and created a feast for the eyes, from the opening that zooms in on a veiled interior with dancing candle flames, to the great red dust storm devouring the Australian plains, the train speeding into the Turkish countryside, Istanbul’s skyline pierced with minarets, the interior of the Blue Mosque, the labyrinthine streets of the ancient city, veiled women and men donning red fez.
He delivered countless scenes of pathos – Connor reading an Arabian Night’s fairy tale to three empty beds, his wife touching his face tenderly before she kills herself, one brother telling his fatally wounded younger sibling to close his eyes before pulling the trigger to give him the coup de grace, Major Hasan gazing at Connor from a distance, saying, “He’s the only father who came looking for his sons.”
There’s blood and gore aplenty, too. Henry, one of Connor’s sons went berserk in the trenches, strangling foes with barbed wire, bashing them to death with rocks. Then he whimpered for their mom when shot, begging his brother Arthur to end his suffering.
Credit goes to The Water Diviner’s cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, as well. This guy, who shot the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and its prequel, “Hobbit” trilogy, gave viewers the nerve-wracking flashback sequences of the Gallipoli battle, the breathtaking landscapes of Australia and Turkey.
For a limited budget film ($22.5 million), Crowe produced a beautiful epic, indeed.
And yet somehow, it seems to barely skim the surface of so many profound themes overlapping one another – mysticism, national identity, the inhumanity of war, brotherly compassion, paternal love.
Also, it was hard to believe that a man in such indescribable pain as Connor, obsessed with finding his three dead boys after his wife’s suicide, can still dally around with a Turkish war widow (Olga Kurylenko’s Ayshe) and play surrogate father to her irresistible son, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades).
For me, the story would have stood alone as a father’s soul journey. It would have done better without the cloyingly sweet subplot of an obligatory romance.
But as a viewer, I can forgive that, along with the ambiguous mysticism, the cowboy Western-flavored escape of the hero from soldiers deporting him from Turkey via the balcony, clambering over rooftops, galloping into the sunset, finding the windmill he saw in his dreams that lead him to his surviving son.
In fact, you can forgive a movie most everything, if it takes your heart in its keeping.
Showing at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide starting this Wednesday, June 24, 2015.
Director: Russell Crowe
Writers: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios
Stars: Russell Crowe as Joshua Connor
Olga Kurylenko as Ayshe
Dylan Georgiades as Orhan
Yılmaz Erdoğan as Major Hasan
Cem Yılmaz as Sergeant Jemal
Jai Courtney as Lt-Col Cyril Hughes
Ryan Corr as Arthur Connor
Jacqueline McKenzie as Eliza Connor