FILM REVIEW by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

JUNE 25-28
3 out of 5

Russell Crowe gets no respect, even though it has been a while since he cleaned up his act and became less irascible. He is still being mocked mercilessly because of his singing in Les Misérables (undeservedly so), and is often thought of as box-office poison, in spite of such low-key hits as Noah and Robin Hood.

Crowe remains unfazed, to the point he is now trying his hand as a director. His debut feature, The Water Diviner, is traditional to a fault. Crowe himself stars as Connor, an Australian farmer trying to keep it together following the death of his three sons in the battle of Gallipoli during WWI. His wife’s suicide pushes him to go looking for the remains of his kids in Turkey. The task proves harder than expected, as the British bureaucracy and a burgeoning conflict between Turks and Greeks undercut his efforts at every corner.

The Australian is not alone. Connor befriends a local urchin and his beautiful mother (Olga Kurylenko), left in a vulnerable position after the death of her husband during the war. He also finds other honorable men from different backgrounds willing to give a hand on principle.

Shot like a David Lean movie by the late Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings), who died recently of a heart attack at age 59, The Water Diviner is handsome looking. From the Australian Outback to the rocky Turkish coast, the film screams epic. It’s clear that of all his frequent collaborators, Ridley Scott is the one who has influenced Crowe the most.

The problems lie elsewhere. The sheepishly romantic relationship with the Turkish widow is perfunctory, and Kurylenko has problems selling a character that’s a compendium of clichés. Some affectations are a bit much, like the fact Connor used to read “Arabian Nights” to his kids (I hope not all of it), or the fact he travels with a cricket bat.

The movie comes alive whenever Connor is following a lead regarding the whereabouts of one son who might still be alive. The supposed villains of the piece, the Turks, are actually complex and often sympathetic. Meanwhile, the British are shown as indifferent to the protagonist’s plight. The Greeks get the short shift: due to time constraints they appear nuance-free as a brooding, angry bunch.

The Water Diviner is a promising start for the directing portion of Russell Crowe’s career. He is not a natural, but can tell a story.