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Directed by Russell Crowe. Produced by Troy Lum, Andrew Mason, and Keith Rodger. Written by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight. Release date: April 24, 2015.

It always fascinates me whenever a well-known actor decides to step into the director’s chair. The results aren’t always good, but they’re more often than not interesting, since moving behind the camera is often done because it’s a film that the actor personally wants to see get made. In the case of The Water Diviner, which marks the directorial debut of Russell Crowe, you can feel the love for the project from start to finish. Unfortunately, love isn’t a substitute for talent, and Crowe does not show much of that – at least as the film’s director – in The Water Diviner.

In fact, many of the film’s problems are directorial. It’s an inconsistent movie at best that takes so many tonal turns as it progresses. The story sees Joshua Connor (Crowe), an Australian farmer who lost his three sons during WWI and whose wife has now also passed, head to Turkey in order to locate his sons’ bodies and bring them back to his home so they can be buried with his wife. A noble pursuit that is based on true events, I’m sure. It’s too bad we get sidetracked with a horrible obligatory romance with a hotel owner (Olga Kurylenko), out-of-place action scenes, and random flashbacks to the war. It all adds up to very little. “War is bad,” you see.

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That’s selling the film a little short. The Battle of Gallipoli was an important one for all involved, and The Water Diviner does contain some instances in which its aftermath winds up coming into focus. We get to see the impact on both sides, actually, and the film is relatively even-handed in this regard. It also works when it focuses on Joshua, a man who has lost his entire family. Crowe might not be a great director, but he knows how to act. His solemn, kind, and sympathetic hero is the result of a good performance. The film he’s crafted around himself isn’t all that powerful, or even particularly interesting, but he’s good in it – for whatever that means.

It’s not a complete loss for a directorial debut. The war scenes contain some powerful imagery that do hammer home the impact of war, and there are a few gorgeous shots of Turkey and Australia thrown in for good measure. These brief moments show us a touch of talent from Crowe as a director, and perhaps with a better screenplay and more influential producers he’ll direct a great movie. The potential is there.

Spurts of brilliance are undercut by stupidity, a lack of character depth, and jarring tonal shifts.

Speaking of the screenplay – which we’re to believe is based on true events – it’s often ridiculous, or perhaps “preposterous” is a better word. Almost right off the bat, as soon as Joshua turns up to search for his sons, he uses magical powers that rival Vin Diesel‘s car powers from Fast & Furious to find two of their bodies. No, really. He looks at the ground, has flashbacks that aren’t his, and locates them. The rest of his journey sees him led on a wild goose chase to find the third, who may or may not be alive. It’s too silly to be believable. You can’t take it seriously. By the point when Joshua single-handedly takes down a group of ambushing assailants, I was just laughing at it. It takes itself so seriously, as well, with no time taken to appreciate how stupid it all is.

While Crowe is good in the lead role, he’s really the only actor who is, in large part because the screenplay doesn’t give much for the other actors to work with. Olga Kurylenko is an obligatory love interest, Dylan Georgiades is the kid, Yilmaz Erdogan is the sidekick, and Jai Courtney gets a funny-looking mustache that fails to cover up how uncharismatic and shallow an actor he is. It’s Crowe’s movie, through and through – for better or for worse.

The Water Diviner is a rocky start to the directorial career of Russell Crowe. It’s an uneven effort whose screenplay doesn’t help him out any. Spurts of brilliance are undercut by stupidity, a lack of character depth, and jarring tonal shifts. It might interest students studying the Battle of Gallipoli, but for anyone else it’ll largely be a waste of time.

Bottom Line: A preposterous story that gets muddled with tonal shifts, The Water Diviner isn’t a successful directorial debut for Russell Crowe.

Recommendation: Students studying the Battle of Gallipoli might be the only group for whom The Water Diviner will be useful.



If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.

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