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Strathmore’s finest son, Russell ‘Rusty’ Crowe, has been around film sets and worked along­side good, aver­age and bad dir­ect­ors now for nearly 25 years, so it comes as no sur­prise to find that good, aver­age and bad habits have rubbed off on him when it comes to his turn in the director’s chair.

water_diviner_xlgAs an act­or, he has been most suc­cess­ful when sub­tlety is eschewed and grand ges­tures and emo­tions are called for — the angry skin­head in Romper Stomper, Oscar-winning Maximus in Gladiator, con­jur­ing up a good per­form­ance des­pite an aver­age singing voice in Les Misérables and sav­ing the world with the voice of God in his head in Noah earli­er this year. Even my favour­ite Crowe per­form­ance, the gay son in the poignant 1994 Australian drama The Sum of Us, had a heart as big as, they say, a whale.

This big-heartedness is the great strength of Crowe’s dir­ect­ori­al debut, The Water Diviner, the story of a griev­ing fath­er search­ing for what remains of his sons, who he allowed to enlist and then be all but oblit­er­ated on the unfor­giv­ing coast of the Dardanelles. This is an Anzac story, and it couldn’t be bet­ter timed with our atten­tion turned once again to those who fought and died for us a hun­dred years ago.

Another strength of Crowe’s film — and the ori­gin­al script by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios — is that it nev­er lets us for­get that two sides were sac­ri­fi­cing their young men on those cliffs. The Turks, who dur­ing the story are help­ing the British and Anzacs loc­ate the remains of the dead on the hill­side at the same time as pre­par­ing to defend their home­land once again from the Greeks on anoth­er front, lost as many as the Allies, and their story is usu­ally a sideshow in these things. The per­form­ances by Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz — as Turkish officers with mixed motiv­a­tions in aid­ing the bereaved Victorian farm­er — help restore that bal­ance somewhat.

The Water Diviner is not without evid­ence of those bad habits, though. An ill-advised romantic sub-plot with a Turkish wid­ow (played by Russian beauty Olga Kurylenko) detracts from the solidly anti-war, yet cour­ageously meta­phys­ic­al, main story. The Water Diviner, on a rel­at­ively low budget, also man­ages to help me for­get the wobbly rub­ber bay­on­ets of the sole New Zealand fea­ture on this sub­ject, Dale Bradley’s deeply flawed 1992 adapt­a­tion of Maurice Shadbolt’s Once on Chunuk Bair.

(Originally prin­ted in the Dec/Jan issue Wellington’s FishHead magazine.)

One Comment

  • Seb Thomas says:

    Happy New Year!

    We saw this last night and thought it was excel­lent! Totally agree with you on the romantic sub­plot, did­n’t really need it. The candle lit din­ner scene was a bit over the top and prob­ably the only low point for us.

    Looking for­ward to 2015 with RanchoNotorious. We plan on send­ing in a few two word reviews, although your two word review­er pretty much gets it right every week (does he sleep at the cinemas haha). Keep up the great work!