June 27, 2015
War is never good. It is a needlessly violent act of pride pitting man against his fellow man. Lives are lost on both sides -- fathers, brothers and sons become mere statistics, while their families suffer the anguish of their loss.
Set in 1919 at the end of World War I, "The Water Diviner" refers to Australian farmer Joshua Connor, who had the talent of being able to locate underground water. Four years earlier, his three sons Arthur, Edward, and Henry went to serve with the ANZAC forces at the Battle of Gallipoli. They never come home and are presumed dead. Their mother Eliza never forgave Joshua for this great loss, with her despondence leading to suicide. After her burial, Joshua goes to Turkey to search for his sons bodies, determined to bring them back home to bury beside their mother.
From the very first scene, it is clearly seen that this film had a rare cinematic beauty. The cinematography of Academy Award winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie is artistically breathtaking, with amazing camera angles capturing the most memorable images. That magnificent scene of the red dust storm chasing the young boys is a masterpiece in itself. Even the horrors of war were captured so well by this camera. The costume and production design teams should be praised for their meticulous efforts for period and cultural accuracy.
Russell Crowe's career had been on a slump lately with less than stellar performances in films like "Les Miserables" (2012), "Man of Steel" (2013) and "Noah" (2014). "The Water Diviner" brings back the glorious Crowe we remember in his Oscar-winning films "Gladiator" and "A Beautiful Mind." It is hard to believe that this is only the first feature film Russell Crowe ever directed. His vision was clear and his execution of the script was sure and steady. He directed himself very well in the lead role. He had the audience's sympathy from beginning to end.
Olga Kurylenko plays Ayshe, the woman who ran the hotel where Joshua stayed in Istanbul. She looked different from the dusky exotic Bond girl we first saw in "The Quantum of Solace." Maybe it is that beautiful smile she frequently flashes or dignified charm she exudes in this entire film, but Kurylenko never looked better. Her chemistry with Dylan Georgiades, the child actor who plays Ayshe's son Orhan, was natural and delightful.
Two Turkish actors play important roles. Yılmaz Erdoğan plays Major Hasan, a Turkish officer whom Joshua first perceived as an enemy but later proved to be a valuable friend, and Cem Yılmaz plays Hasan's faithful Sergeant Jemal. From the way these roles were written, the underlying message of this film against wars, particularly about the humanity of the "enemy", is driven home. It indirectly hits the illogical participation of Australian and New Zealand troops in the Gallipoli Campaign that ended in tragic defeat and great human cost.
This epic film is best seen on the big screen in order to fully appreciate its fantastic cinematography. It had been awarded as Best Film (in a tie with horror film "The Babadook") at the Australian Academy Awards, the AACTA, given out January this year. This is an anti-war film like no other. Its beauty and elegance set it well above its kind. 9/10.