This review has been a slightly different experience for me. Normally I’m stuck at home, on my own with either the DVD player or my laptop being the source of my Great War Film viewing. This time I’m sitting slap bang, dead centre in the middle of an actual cinema watching a Great War Film on a big screen! As it happens I also have a glass of wine in hand and about twenty other people, a smattering if you like (mostly older ladies) dispersed pretty evenly around me. I’m not used to watching these films with company and I hope they don’t mind me taking notes on my phone.
My film today is ‘The Water Diviner’, another in a long line of Australian Great War Films. The reason this one got quite a bit of press attention at the end of last year was due to it being gravel larynxed, (ex pat Kiwi) Australian Russell Crowe’s directorial debut. I’ll come back to my thoughts on that later. He also has himself in the lead role and he probably sung tha feem toon as well. He’s been on a bit of a slow decline over the last few years has poor old Russell so I was interested to see what this would be like. Was this a vanity project where Crowe was pissing someone’s money up the wall in an attempt to improve his waning profile? Or, would this be a piece of art, perfect from every angle and without compare? I was excited to find out.
The plot is as follows: Gallipoli happened. Three brothers are missing presumed dead. It’s 1919 and their parents are struggling with the loss, the Mum drowns herself in their muddy little billabong and subsequently the Dad goes to Turkey to find them. It’s a good set up and with little more than 15 minutes under our belts we say goodbye to Australia. I was surprised how Turkish this film felt. I’ve watched a couple of Turkish Great War Films recently, the poorly written, CGI disaster ‘Canakkale 1915’ and the possibly revisionist ‘120’. Both were deeply Turkish for good or for bad and I can see elements of these two films in ‘The Water Diviner’. Mostly the good bits.
But I do notice a few problems early on. The first scene opens and I’m immediately impressed with the quality of the cinematography. It’s well lit, super colourful and crisp to look at. My reaction is that I’m in for something good. Then some Aussies go over the top and there’s a big rubbish CGI explosion directly behind them. I looked like stock footage, like it’d been taken from a cheap action flick, it was pixelated, and didn’t seem to fit its surroundings. All the good work by the photography unit was shot to ribbons in an instant and the film suddenly looked cheap. I don’t usually care about these things but I was so impressed with how good it looked, plus I was seeing it on a big screen. To have such a glaringly cheap ‘Sharknado’ style effect chucked in nearly ruined the film for me before it even got going.
You’ll be glad to know I quickly got over that explosion and began to enjoy myself. It’s a good story. Crowe is very good in the role of a dignified, slightly older chap, quiet and controlled but focussed and fixated on his cause. There’s a good pace to it, the writing is solid although formulaic and there is a bit of a twist or at least something you’re not quite expecting. There are violent moments although the cameras don’t focus on the gore. Having said that they don’t overtly shy away from it either. And, there was one moment that I felt, truly deeply felt. A moment that caused an emotional response in me. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the sign of a winner in my book. A film that grabs me by the knackers and makes me cry (just a little bit).
Given its Australian DNA it’s a very Turkish film. The colours on the screen are florid, the scenery is amazing and the majority of the actors are Turkish. There’s even something that (in my limited experience) appears to be a bit of a staple of Turkish films….a folky singalong. Having said that ’40,000 Horsemen’ has about 20 renditions of Waltzing bloody Matilda in it so maybe it’s more of an Australian thing than Turkish.
In Director mode Crowe has done a decent enough job. He did well to get Andrew Lesnie (Cinematographer for the Lord of the Rings films, the Hobbit and the seminal Babe 2: Pig in the City) who, as I said, made this thing look crisp and joyfully loaded with colour and light. There are a few dead ends that he could’ve nipped out and he should’ve definitely done something different with the ending. The film is an hour fifty long and he was doing really well until about 3 minutes from the end when the film abruptly turns into Indiana bloody Jones so as to get them out of a corner they’d written themselves into. Also the closing scene where he meets his love interest again is possibly the most sickeningly sweet thing I’ve ever seen.
In conclusion, what we have is a well put together, slightly formulaic story, filmed in a gloriously colourful way and with a pithy pace that is nearly ruined by the lack of a decent ending. I say nearly because I still liked it and I’d recommend it to others. Good work Mr Gladiator, just focus on the ending a bit next time. Clicky Clicky to get those sticky little fingers of yours on a copy.