It's fair, I think, to question whether this is a film Russell Crowe would have appeared in if he hadn't also directed it. He does himself a big favor by doing so, providing the only star power in the wannabe sweeping epic. My guess is, if the Oscar winner weren't making his behind-the-camera debut with this baloney-athon, he wouldn't have been caught dead in it.
I didn't believe a minute of this movie. Based on the novel by Andrew Anastasios and Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios, The Water Diviner is a roulette wheel of tones, themes and genres. Crowe attempts to cram too many movies of too many types into one. With echoes of everything from Gallipoli and Saving Private Ryan to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the result is a schizo couple of hours at the multiplex.
The film opens in Australia after the end of World War I. A farmer named Joshua Connor (Crowe) walks across a field. As the camera closes in, we see the jolly, rugged fellow holding a pair of rods. When they cross, he digs a hole large enough to silo a small missile, and water gushes from the ground. A good day, right?
Wrong. When Connor returns home, his wife asks him to read The Arabian Nights to their sons. After he entertains three empty beds with the story, she assails him for sending the young men to their deaths at the Battle of Gallipoli four years earlier. Connor vows to bring their remains home. This fails to improve her mood.
Arriving in Turkey to fulfill his mission, Connor is immediately befriended by a hyper urchin who escorts him to a hotel run by his widowed, overworked yet babelicious mother (Bond girl Olga Kurylenko). Her initial reaction is to turn Connor away — so there's no chance romance could be in the cards, right? Next, our hero contacts the British military seeking permission to visit Gallipoli. Its initial reaction is to turn Connor away, too. But he doesn't leave. He makes a fire and camps out. How can you say no to a father so full of passion and determination that he camps out?
So, the next thing we know, Connor is touring the site with British soldiers and a Turkish major whose job is to help his former enemy locate its fallen. He knows where the bodies are because he led the attack that put them there. Semi-spoiler alert: In that ground lie the bones of thousands of soldiers. How insane would it be if the grieving farmer's water-finding powers could be magically harnessed to find not just remains but the remains of specific men?
How batshit ridiculous would it be if he went into a trance and, in his mind's eye, watched a replay of the battle that enabled him to point to the exact spot where his sons' dog tags could be found? That kind of thing could never happen in a Russell Crowe movie, right? What a relief.
If Nicholas Sparks wrote a historical novel, the result might be something very like this manly muddle — filled with oversize emotions, obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome and love found in the last place one would expect — while, at the same time, being kinda trivial and silly. I don't think that's what Crowe was going for.
I think he wanted to make a film in the tradition of the classic Hollywood dramas, a film that brought to mind David Lean and John Huston. But, as we all know, they don't make them like they used to. If Crowe accomplishes anything with this movie, it's to remind us that's mainly because they can't.