Sunday, 5 April 2015

Review: The Water Diviner

World of Blackout Film Review

The Water Diviner Poster

The Water Diviner
Cert: 15 / 111 mins / Dir. Russell Crowe / Trailer
WoB Rating: 4/7


Russell Crowe's first feature film as a director sees an Australian water diviner, Joshua Connor, living with his wife on their farm in the outback in 1919, their three sons having died in the Allied Forces disastrous campaign at Gallipoli four years earlier. Consumed by grief, Joshua's wife commits suicide, and he resolves to travel to the Turkish peninsular to recover the bodies of his children and bring them home. With the British, Australian and Turkish governments mounting a cleanup operation in the area, tensions are already high and Joshua will need more than luck and perseverance in his quest…

Overly-earnest form the word go, The Water Diviner often feels like using a sledgehammer to knock in a picture-hook. It becomes clear very early on that The Battle Of Gallipoli is still a very raw wound for both Australia and Turkey, especially at the time of its centenary, and I can't help feeling that the telling of the story suffers as a result. Heavy on the hand-wringing but far lighter on actual depth, the film wants to be all things to all audiences, skipping though grief, humour, action, sentimentality and romanticism; trying to be a fully rounded film and missing the point that that was never necessary.

That's not to say that The Water Diviner isn't a story worth telling, just that this isn't the best it could (should) be. The film features some stunning outdoor photography and truly harrowing depictions of warfare, but the quiet scenes are the most engaging, when Crowe's not telling you what to think. He seems quite adept at directing himself thoroughly and leaving the rest of the cast to interpret the script the way they wish. Sometimes this works well (Yilmaz Erdogan), sometimes not so well (Jai Courtney). It's also nice that the editors have decided we don't need the translation for all of the Turkish dialogue, so only give us subtitles for the lines they think we need to know about*1.

But I have to admit that my main bugbear is the film's opening title card: "This film is inspired by true events" (cf this fantastically acerbic article). Without that anti-disclaimer, I'd have sat a lot more comfortably in my seat as we're shown a grown adult use his unexplained water-divining skills to recover the bodies of the dead, have incredibly specific visions to locate the living, and have fortune-telling coffee dregs thrown into the mix, too. I was genuinely surprised that Joshua wasn't rescued by a giant eagle at the film's climax…

These are, of course, my hangups with the film. The film's narrative works far better than the performances themselves, but is hobbled by a screenplay which is all over the place in style and content.

The Water Diviner is a film about faith, of all kinds. Maybe this is why a cynic like me had such a hard time with it.

I imagine you'll like it very much.



Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
For many people, I fear it won't be.


Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
If you like it, you'll love it; probably a buy-er.


Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Sadly not.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I don't think so, but your mileage will vary.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
No.


Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Pretty certain I heard one during the first battle-scene, yes.


…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Crowe was 2010's Robin Hood of course, alongside Max Von Sydow and Oscar Isaac, both of which will be starring in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…




*1 It's arguable of course that many of the sub-less scenes are that way because Crowe's character doesn't understand what's being said and we're seeing things from his point of view. Which would be fine if there weren't subtitles is some of the scenes that he is in. It's okay Russell, you can show the audience what's being said and still show that your character doesn't understand it by a-c-t-i-n-g

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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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