Four years after the Battle of Gallipoli, Australian everyman Connor (Russell Crowe) takes to the ruined Turkish countryside in search of his three missing sons. Presumed dead given the voluminous amount of recorded casualties, Connor’s hope is to merely claim their remains should the task prove surmountable; the locals’ warranted distaste toward the Australian populace proving to be an ample hindrance. Forming a tenuously comforting bond with the comparably lonely Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), will Connor’s woes begin to wane in the face of continuing adversity? Only time will tell.
Throughout its opening moments, The Water Diviner unfailingly drags you through an emotional minefield in an attempt to garner sympathy. If losing all of your children in one fell swoop wasn’t enough, in rushes the crushing blow that serves as Connor’s impetus in traveling to Gallipoli. It’s an adequately cloying setup for what ensues, even if Crowe’s directorial flourishes feel slapdash as an amalgamation of those he’s previously worked with.
Barring technical quirks, the script doesn’t do itself any favors by way of focal idiosyncrasies. It’s one thing to present relevant historical context for viewers’ sake, yet it’s another entirely to not know what you want your film to be. Peppered with tidbits of post-WWI mythos, evocative substance is lost throughout the meandering, multi-threaded narrative that infuses a personal tale of redemption with social commentary and wartime politics. While inherently informative, a corresponding air of detachment hamstrings the film as it remains nothing more than an ant’s-eye view of long-gestating international tensions.
Even as the third act regains its footing in terms of proper closure, The Water Diviner is still a largely banal debut for Crowe as a director. He’s as magnetic as ever in front of the camera if not so much behind, but for all intents and purposes, the film is just fine if innocuously steeped in familiarly-presented postwar strife. Key relationships are established but not easily invested in due to how sporadically they’re employed, and frankly, all attempted commentary and pseudo-lyricism fall flat in light of Crowe’s earnest intentions.