When I saw this movie poster at Rainbow Theatre (our pay-next-to-nothing-to-see-the-movie-when-it’s-finished-at-the-regular-theatres movie theatre), I didn’t remember hearing about it before and was intrigued, so I came back on even-cheaper day (Tuesday) to watch it. As it began, I did remember seeing the previews and that I had wanted to see it. The Water Diviner is Russell Crowe’s directorial debut and he also stars in it. It takes place in 1919 but begins with the final moments of the war in Gallipoli with a glimpse into the mind of the Turkish Major (played by Yilmaz Erdogan) at battle lines that have not moved in 4 months of fighting. We see that he is not only a brave and battle-hardened commander, but a kind one as well; he sends his young attendant back to the tent for his binoculars in order to keep him out of the fighting.
It’s a great introduction to the character who will end up being the only one who will help Australian farmer, Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) look for the bodies of his 3 sons, believed to have died in the last battle on that front. From the end of that attack, we switch to Connor at home in Australia where he is divining a well. His faithful dog waits patiently for him as he move cautiously at first, then deliberately, and finally digs deep until he is rewarded with water.
We meet his wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) who, clearly, no longer has her wits. She tells him to read to the boys. It’s bedtime. He goes in and does so, and then the camera slowly pulls back so we can see the empty beds. On the rare occasions when she is lucid, she wants him to find her boys and bring them home. He tries not to leave her unattended, but it’s an impossible task, and he wakes to find her drowned in the pond. So he sets off to fulfill her last wish — to find the boys and bring their bodies home.
Two other people who become central to his quest are the engaging boy, Orhan, (Dylan Jett Georgiades, a young Australian actor) he meets coming through customs in Istanbul. Orhan seems to steal his bag, but only to lure him to his parents’ hotel and his mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a beautiful widow who does not accept that her husband is dead, much to the chagrin of her brother-in-law who wishes to marry her.
At the U.S. embassy, Connor is denied access to Gallipoli where British soldiers, with the help of two Turkish officers, are finding bodies in the surrounding area, reintering them, and marking their graves with crosses. They are determined to find every soldier who died there. Ayshe, who is extremely cold toward Connor until she learns that his wife and sons are dead, and why he has come to Turkey, tells Connor how to get around the regulations. He can bribe a fisherman who will take him there in his boat and drop him ashore — no passport needed.
At first, Connor seems to be out of luck there as well; the officer in charge, Lt-Col Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney), isn’t inclined to bend the rules for him despite his ingenuity in reaching the area. However, Major Hassan is willing to let him stay and help find the boys’ bodies because “he was the only father who came looking”. The skills that make Connor a great diviner of water, also show him where the bodies of two of the boys lie. Lt. Hughes convinces him to leave their bodies here with their comrades, and so Connor reads to them one last time from the Tales of the Arabian Nights. He has a vision that shows him that while Arthur was shot heading back to his trench, he was wounded, and when his brothers tried to rescue him, they were both severely wounded as well; one dies a painful, lingering death, and the other begs Arthur to kill him. But Arthur was taken prisoner — alive.
Back in Istanbul trying to find out where Arthur might have been taken as a prisoner of war, Connor learns he is to be deported for breaking the law and going to Gallipoli. He and Major Hassan, however, keep running into each other and develop a mutual respect and understanding of the two sides of the conflict and ensuing fragile peace. Connor’s relationship with Ayshe and Orhan continues to develop, and when Ayshe’s brother-in-law attacks her, Connor steps in only to be told he has made things worse and must leave.
While there are some rather gruesome battle scenes, they are realistic and not predominant — just enough to set the scene in a realistic way — and in no way is it gratuitous violence. The buoyant Orhan adds some levelling to what is, after all, a rather intense drama at times. Some of the action would appear to be unrealistic but — stranger things have happened. A side note: the horse Crowe rides in the movie is his own horse, and he clearly has some serious horsemanship. This is the last movie made by award-winning Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (1 January 1956 – 27 April 2015). The co-writer of the screenplay, Andrew Anastasios (working with Andrew Knight), is also the author of the book, and if you want a taste of the drama of the story, you can hear the beginning of the audio version here on Amazon. * * * *