“The Water Diviner” is not a film of faith, or of love, or of family, or of death, or of anything really. At the conclusion of the film, a message flashes in memory of the thousands of soldiers whose bodies went unclaimed at the end of World War I. It’s a moment that fails to resonate, a sentiment that feels lost amidst the movie’s various moving parts. If Russell Crowe wanted to honor those who lost their lives in the war, he might’ve been better off erecting a monument, something permanent, because I’ve no desire to watch “The Water Diviner” for a second time.
Crowe is a farmer living in Australia with his wife. His three sons are gone, lost at the Battle of Gallipoli. Upon the death of his wife, he makes the promise to bring the bodies of their children home to be buried alongside her. This is Joshua Connor’s quest; his selfless sacrifice to his loved ones. It’s a globetrotting tale of inspiration and perseverance. But it’s something that at this point has become so familiar to us – the flawless hero risking his life and well being in the name of righteousness. The movie is largely boring because Connor is a boring man. He’s the perfect father, the perfect husband. He largely maintains his steely-eyed demeanor as protection against those who would send him home if they thought him weak.
We first glimpse Connor in the outback, something in the middle of nothing. Using divining rods, he finds water amidst the dryness of his surroundings. He later relays this practice to a young boy, Orhan, whom he has taken under his wing. He tells the boy, “It’s about feeling it.” I cannot testify as to the practicality or effectiveness of divining rods, but what he means is that is a big crapshoot. It’s an apt metaphor for his mission. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives at Galipolli; that Joshua might find the bones of his sons is as likely as finding a needle in a haystack. But he finds them. It might be divine intervention. I think it’s pretty damn convenient.
Joshua’s business does not occupy the entirety of his time abroad. In Turkey he meets a young woman, Ayshe, the soon-to-be-wife of her late husband’s lecherous brother. They run the hotel at which Joshua stays. It’s the sort of instant love that detracts totally from the film’s motive. The search for the three Connor boys should be a physically and emotionally draining endeavor. We should feel every step, every cut and bruise, every ‘No’ from every officer bent on sending Joshua back home. To insert a love story, as if it’s instant mashed potatoes (Just add water! Instant connection!), is a ploy that cheapens and invalidates everything surrounding it. The film itself is unforgivably light; big moments feeling flimsy, important speeches sounding slurred
Much of this, unfortunately, falls on the novice direction of Russell Crowe, here making his feature film debut behind the camera. There is a blandness that signifies a lack of confidence, a lack of creativity, the sacrificing of individuality in the name of the broadest possible appeal. Crowe’s acting is enough to hold many of the scenes together, but the whole of the movie falls flat. It feels cut out along the dotted line, not as if it were molded or sculpted or in any way affected by its director, writers, or actors. It’s the worst kind of movie, the movie that leaves you somewhere in the middle of enchantment and total disgust.
The main motivation of “The Water Diviner” is to make us feel rather than think. Its intentions are pure, but it’s too earnest. It wants too much to earn our admiration and investment, or to be important. It’s nothing awful, but there’s a reason I have no desire to watch it again. Its entertainment value is fairly low, and it offers nothing complex enough to glean from a second or third or fourth viewing. Not every film is going to be a fantastic work of art, but that’s no excuse for simplicity. This feels mostly like a wasted opportunity. The movie saw great success in Australia, garnering a few nominations at the Australian Academy Awards, even winning Best Picture. In America, I expect it to flounder at the bottom of the box office for a few weeks, and I’ll remember it exists only when the Blu-ray edition is advertised at the side of my browser. It’s a work of little note, of little impact. Holding down the fort until the big summer blockbusters take the stage, “The Water Diviner” is the cinematic equivalent of the seventh inning stretch.
Review by Lucas Dispoto
“The Water Diviner” is now playing in theaters nationwide.