I’m sure that buried underneath the weight of all of the unnecessary characters, plot lines, and superfluous flashbacks, The Water Diviner could have been a great directorial debut film for Russell Crowe. Unfortunately, his first time behind the camera results in a film that tries too hard to be so many different things that it ultimately ends up being a hodgepodge of genres that does not fulfill its impactful story.
Four years after the Battle of Gallipoli, Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe), and his wife, Eliza, live with the grief that their three sons were killed in the battle. Joshua, a water diviner—someone who is able to feel the water underneath the ground in arid lands and then digs it up—wakes to find his wife dead from suicide. He promises, at her grave, to travel to Gallipoli to bring home the bodies of their sons to be buried next to her. This story alone would be immensely powerful, however once arriving in Turkey, we become swept up into romance, flashbacks to the war, political strife, and social turmoil.
At times the film delves into cheesiness, while sometimes it is a full-fledged war film. This misconstrued sense of identity destroys the focus of the film. Not only is it unfocused, but there are a lot of scenes that needed a lot more exposition than what was given. Perhaps since the Battle of Gallipoli didn’t involve Americans the screenwriter decided not to include any information on the actual battle, why it was fought, or even who the ANZACs were (that acronym is never explained in the movie) since this was an Australian production. It seems as though, at some points, the editor decided that the run-time was getting a tad long (hardly at 110 minutes) so they decided to completely cut out scenes, while at others it feels horribly forced as if there were no natural transitions between scenes.
Luckily, most of the performances are pretty solid. Crowe leads the bunch with tenderness and determination. He wants to find his sons more than anything, and the pain that comes with it is handled with great restraint. Being the director he could have taken quite a few liberties and made the movie to only self-serve himself, but he never tries to make it his movie. Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, and Cem Yilmaz support Crowe sufficiently enough, though one could argue that their characters are more of a means of progressing the muddled plot.
In the end, The Water Diviner is another prime example of a movie that tries to be so big that it gets lost under its own weight. Just like his character in the movie, Crowe attempts to dig into a vast well of potential greatness, but unlike his character, he dug way to far and drained the well of anything of substance.