Review: The Water Diviner

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

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PLOT: After the end of The Great War, a grieving father (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey to recover the bodies of his three sons, who perished in battle at Gallipoli.

REVIEW: After years of starring in epics from people like Ridley Scott, Peter Weir and Darren Aronofsky, it looks like Russell Crowe has picked up more than enough knowledge to make his directorial debut with an epic that certainly wouldn’t be out of any of those directors’ wheelhouse. Considering his relatively small $22 million budget (according to Variety), Crowe’s done an excellent job giving THE WATER DIVINER a sprawling scope, with impressive widescreen photography on location in Turkey, gruesome and well-choreographed battles, and a few really nifty CGI aided sequences, including an especially impressive sandstorm early on.

russell crowe the water diviner

Based on a true story, Crowe’s first film is ambitious and appropriate for the proudly Australian actor, with it being centered around the immediate aftermath of the infamous Gallipoli campaign where close to 9000 Australians lost their lives, many of whom never had their bodies recovered. Crowe plays the devoted father of three such men, who travels from his Outback farm to fulfill a promise to his late wife, who never recovered from the loss of the boys.

Give Russell Crowe credit in that it’s clear he knows exactly what kind of role suits him the best, with his turn as the grieving but adventurous and macho father being a perfect match for the now fifty-year old Crowe. Being a somewhat larger-than-life character himself – a throwback to another era’s Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole or Richard Harris – Crowe seems exceptionally comfortable in the part and gives a subtle but strong performance. Whether romancing a Turkish widow (Olga Kurylenko), starting a surrogate father-son bond with her now-fatherless child, or navigating battle zones to find his sons, Crowe is never unconvincing and at every turn he reminds us what a real movie star is. There’s something charmingly old-fashioned about THE WATER DIVINER and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine one of his predecessors from another era playing the part. Kurylenko and Crowe have excellent chemistry, and Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogan is solid as a Turkish Major who participated in the battle and is bound by his conscience to help Crowe find his sons.

russell crowe the water diviner

However, as entertaining as the film is there’s a huge elephant in the room. Being a co-production with Turkey THE WATER DIVINER often comes off as a naïve film in that it simplifies an era in Turkey’s history that was anything but simple. While the film’s US release coincides with the 100th anniversary of The Battle of Gallipoli, it also comes just a few days after the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, an event that took place only a few short days before Gallipoli and has never been acknowledged by the country despite 1.5 million Armenians having been murdered or deported. Very troublingly, the film never mentions the event and the Turkish nationalists are presented as uniformly heroic and noble – outside of Kurylenko’s louse of a brother-in-law, who’s presented as too much of a coward to fight the invading Greek army. For their part, the Greeks are portrayed as a merciless, bloodthirsty enemy, to the extent that Crowe basically joins his new Turkish pals in fighting them off during an extended (and impressive) battle sequence towards the climax.

While it could be argued that the movie takes place from his character’s POV and that as a stranger to the country he would have been oblivious to what was happening, I’m not sure that’s an entirely valid defense. As such, it makes THE WATER DIVINER a harder movie to really enjoy as if you’re aware of what was happening at the time; the omissions will be glaring and perhaps even irresponsible. At the same time, I’m a film critic, not a historian, and I can’t deny that as uncomfortable as the omissions made me, I was thoroughly entertained by the film. Still, it can’t help but seem too simplified considering the material but as it’s a throwback to an earlier era of film-making perhaps that’s understandable if not excusable. Nevertheless, I’d still recommend seeing it as it’s a lavish epic that never fails to entertain, although I’d be lying if I said the omissions didn’t bother me quite a bit.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.