EMINE – Russell Crowe’s ‘Water Diviner’ too ambitious for its own good

Russell Crowe’s ‘Water Diviner’ too ambitious for its own goodPerhaps Iandrsquom from an ilk of skeptics, and one of those who immediately roll their eyes at cinematic evocations of grandiose heroism and unhinged sacrifice and maybe thatandrsquos why I cannot fully admire or be swept away by Russell Croweandrsquos debut directorial endeavor andldquoThe Water Diviner,andrdquo a cross-cultural exchange project between Australia and Turkey wrapped in the glamorous package of a historical war dramaRest assured, a large number of Turkish moviegoers will be glad to watch a meticulously crafted high-value production that honors the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli from an intentionally balanced point of view encompassing both the Turks and the Aussies (sometimes too much in your face) after being subjected to so many blatantly sleazy, macho and jingoist illustrations of the Turkish fronts in World War I on the big screen.Backed by the terrifyingly prolific industry leviathan Mars Media Group and its vertically integrated movie theater chain Cinemaximum, Crowe is bound to reach a high mark at the Turkish box office.

(Mars Media CEO Muzaffer YIldIrIm was also prominently present at the Istanbul press conference and gala for the film earlier this month, which also hosted co-stars Olga Kurylenko, YIlmaz ErdoIan and Cem YIlmaz. The Turkish actorcelebrities seemed wildly excited about the release as well.

)Anyway, letandrsquos get back to the story: Starting off in the outback of Australia, we are introduced to farmer Connor (Crowe) and his wife, the proud parents of three boisterous boys. Connor is what they call a water-diviner, a person who taps into their psychic ability to find underground water — a talent that will be tragically of use to him in the years to come.

Connor is drawn out to be the perfect father figure protective yet liberal, dependable but non-intrusive. Years pass by, he sends his boys off to Gallipoli under the patronage of British imperialism When the boys are declared dead, the family is shattered and Connor promises himself that he will find the bodies of his sons and bring them back home.

But, of course, what is home, as Croweandrsquos film seeks to ponder?Connor lands at the shore of the Bosporus, smack in the middle of a tense period when the seeds of the Turkish War for Independence are being sown beneath a conquered Istanbul divided between Britain and the Allied powers. He must get to anakkale, but first he must indulge in the Western-movie-favorite bazaar chase, where a young boy leads him to a boutique hotel managed by his beautiful mother AyIe (Olga Kurylenko, who deserves attention in this role as a virtuous Istanbulite widow, though Iandrsquom not sure she will be convincing to the Turkish audience.

Also note that her voice was dubbed over with that of a Turkish actress which really does not do her performance justice). Connor takes refuge in the hotel and undergoes an andldquoOttoman Culture 101.

andrdquo His culture shock will eventually transform into admiration, thanks to Sufi philosophy, another favorite Anatolian export in movies and literature besides spice bazaars.Shunned by dismissive high-ranking members of the British military, Connor nevertheless finds a way to arrive in anakkale with a fishing boat.

There he is reluctantly received by Lt. Col.

Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney of andldquoDivergentandrdquo), who is appointed to clear the deceased Australian soldiers with the help of Turkish Maj. Hasan (YIlmaz ErdoIan, channeling his wise-beyond-oneandrsquos-years role as the poet in andldquoThe Butterflyandrsquos Dreamandrdquo).

Hasan takes a liking to Connor and tries to help him, despite the questioning eyes of his second-in-command Cemal (Cem YIlmaz, channeling his humorous detective from 2010andrsquos andldquoHunting Seasonandrdquo). After all, as Hasan notes, andldquoHe is the only father who came searching for his sons.

andrdquoA tragic sequence presents itself as Connor locates the specific battlefield where his boys were killed and through a quasi-psychic depth-of-knowledge flashback, we watch that horrible night where both Turkish and Australian soldiers face their doom With its truthful depiction of individuals suffering in war, this could be the strongest and most genuinely human scene in this film Grandiose depictions of valor are traded for a gut-wrenching crescendo of wailing from dying soldiers.When Connor finds out that his eldest sonandrsquos body is nowhere to be found, the film takes on a new trajectory and the good father suddenly finds himself assisting Hasan and Cemal in their cause of Turkish independence.

Good to see that Crowe is still befitting for action sequences.Sadly, the depiction of an encounter with Greek soldiers comes off as ineffectual and two-dimensionally represented.

Poor Greeks and Byzantines, thereandrsquos still a long way to go before they get their share of cinematic justice. But at least itandrsquos not as bad as it was in andldquoConquest 1453,andrdquo a 2012 Turkish movie about the fall of Constantinople.

Integrity, loyalty and cultural tolerance make up the motto of andldquoThe Water Divinerandrdquo To give credit where creditandrsquos due, Crowe and his team have made a huge effort in order to portray Turkish characters as complex and veritable — maybe sometimes thereandrsquos too much of an effort. The cinematography by andldquoLord of the Ringsandrdquo veteran Andrew Lesnie is especially alluring.

This war drama that upholds family values of compassion instead of suffocating traditionalism and insists that patriotism is not a blinded mission of triumph and vanquish but should instead be a humble and grounded sense of independence and intrinsic belonging, is still too ambitious, Pollyannaish and message-anxious for its own good.The English translation of the filmandrsquos Turkish title is andldquoThe Last Hope.

andrdquo Well, letandrsquos be frank, in these dreadful times perhaps the Turkish audience will seek to hold on to anything that gives a glimpse of hope.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman