Hello all! Cory and I have managed to catch a sneak preview of The Water Diviner starring Russell Crowe and Olga Kurylenko, and we’d like to take the time to try out our first review.
The Water Diviner tells the story of Australian father and farmer Joshua Connor, whose sons have gone off to fight with other ANZAC soldiers in the Great War. The greatest battle the Australian soldiers faced (and an integral part of Australian history) was the battle of Gallipoli, which was a massive campaign fought mainly with the Ottoman Empire on the edge of Turkey. While Mel Gibson’s famous war film focused on the epic scale of the battles fought by the Australian and New Zealand soldiers, Russell Crowe’s effort here focuses on the aftermath. His father Connor apparently has lost all three sons, and the mother begs him to go find them, even though they have very likely perished. As with most massive battles, bodies are difficult to recover, so it becomes Connor’s mission to at least return home with the remains. While there, he learns how devastating the war was for both sides, befriending a Turkish sergeant and a soldier’s widow who houses him in Istanbul.
Cory and I thought we’d try something a little different for our first go-round, as we paired up and watched the film together. Since we live in different states, we’re often on Skype to discuss posts and scripts and other things, so we figured why not try to watch the film and review it in real time. Below you’ll find some of our highlighted points from the Skype conversation that occurred during our screening:
[4/22/2015 8:44:16 PM] Tristan More: Alright, well I’m starting. Interesting font for the credits
[4/22/2015 8:45:04 PM] Cory: I was about to say it has a whimsical, very fable-esque fonyt
[4/22/2015 8:45:09 PM] Cory: font*
[4/22/2015 8:47:14 PM] Tristan More: Nice cinematography for these battle shots
[4/22/2015 8:47:41 PM] Cory: Yeah not too flashy or overproduced. Matter-of-fact and rhetorical
[4/22/2015 8:51:45 PM] Tristan More: Oh, I see. He is a water diviner
[4/22/2015 8:55:07 PM] Tristan More: ok, this wife is a bit melodramatic
[4/22/2015 8:55:49 PM] Cory: A little but I suppose it was necessary for exposition’s sake
[4/22/2015 9:01:22 PM] Tristan More: You know what this reminds me of?
[4/22/2015 9:01:27 PM] Tristan More: that movie Amigo by John Sayles….
[4/22/2015 9:01:38 PM] Cory: I never saw it
[4/22/2015 9:01:38 PM] Tristan More: very historical, well done, well shot, pretty interesting war film
[4/22/2015 9:01:55 PM] Tristan More: but no one was going to care, so they released it at all because of Crowe, but they did it in April.
[4/22/2015 9:03:56 PM] Tristan More: I like this general
[4/22/2015 9:03:59 PM] Tristan More: the Turkish one
[4/22/2015 9:04:14 PM] Tristan More: he’s very honorable but regretful and such, so the ravages of war are apparent between these two leaders
[4/22/2015 9:04:50 PM] Cory: Yeah I like the appeasing nature of this detente scene
[4/22/2015 9:07:17 PM] Tristan More: this storm is pretty harrowing
[4/22/2015 9:07:25 PM] Cory: The sandstorm scene is a bit too magical-realism
[4/22/2015 9:11:44 PM] Cory: This plays like a Tom Hanks directorial effort.
[4/22/2015 9:12:14 PM] Cory: Humane and bountiful in indomitable spirit
[4/22/2015 9:12:22 PM] Tristan More: I can see that. Yeah, I get that sentiment
[4/22/2015 9:12:56 PM] Tristan More: If Tom Hanks directed this, it would be about a US soldier coming to Normandy and saying “Gee, I never would have thought we had all that fighting here, eh?”
[4/22/2015 9:13:55 PM] Cory: Clueless American stereotype
[4/22/2015 9:17:56 PM] Cory: Olga is very good in this. I love the silent-film matriarchy when she puts her hands on her hips in disapproval.
[4/22/2015 9:30:25 PM] Tristan More: what do you think of the twisting of the footage as the boys rush the Turkish bunker?
[4/22/2015 9:30:49 PM] Cory: I like the effect. It has a dizzying sensation to it.
[4/22/2015 9:30:59 PM] Cory: Very 90’s camera shot
[4/22/2015 9:31:03 PM] Tristan More: Yeah, on both counts
[4/22/2015 9:31:12 PM] Tristan More: gotta try something different for battle shots
[4/22/2015 9:32:23 PM] Cory: The moaning of dying soldiers is heart-rending
[4/22/2015 9:33:10 PM] Tristan More: Aw, yeah.
[4/22/2015 9:33:26 PM] Tristan More: So are we supposed to think because he’s a water diviner that he can locate the exact position his sons were when they dropped?
[4/22/2015 9:33:33 PM] Tristan More: what if they died separately?
[4/22/2015 9:37:15 PM] Cory: I love how ambivalent you feel about the Turkey general despite his treatment of his enemies. He was justified in war.
[4/22/2015 9:37:31 PM] Tristan More: Well that’s how we feel at first.
[4/22/2015 9:37:39 PM] Tristan More: That’s the point of that first scene. However you think of the battle itself
[4/22/2015 9:37:48 PM] Tristan More: even if you know what actually happened, they won, the Turks.
[4/22/2015 9:37:53 PM] Tristan More: so you’re enjoying their victory.
[4/22/2015 9:38:10 PM] Tristan More: Of course almost immediately we learn he was actually brutal, massacring the surviving soldiers
[4/22/2015 9:43:50 PM] Tristan More: Since the British think the war ended, it’s fine. But the Greeks are being assholes
[4/22/2015 9:45:13 PM] Tristan More: this foppish lieutenant is a bit too pompous, but he makes sense for this
[4/22/2015 9:45:56 PM] Cory: He’s slightly caricatured like the Duke in Moulin Rouge. Considerably toned down though lol
[4/22/2015 9:51:52 PM] Tristan More: ugh, I kind of dislike when Russell Crowe gets that glint in his eye, where we know he totally has the hots for someone
[4/22/2015 9:52:13 PM] Cory: I think he’s adorably ursine
[4/22/2015 9:52:21 PM] Cory: Like a domesticated Kodiak bear
[4/22/2015 10:03:07 PM] Cory: In an upcoming scene, the romantic banter would be listless were it not a dialogue-free montage. Good editorial choice.
[3:26:14 PM] Cory: Did you hear about the controversy over omitting the mention of the Armenian genocide?
[3:26:26 PM] Tristan More: oh? No i hadn’t
[3:26:29 PM] Cory: Yeah I believe they’re heading back to enemy territory
[3:26:51 PM] Cory: I think it would detract from the central story if they had mentioned it
[3:27:06 PM] Tristan More: True it probably would
[3:27:56 PM] Cory: Cricket is the universal bridge to bring nations together. Such a unifying pastime.
[3:30:17 PM] Cory: The large-scale raid on the train had a David Lean epicness to it
[3:30:43 PM] Cory: With a bit of Errol Flynn swashbuckling spirit
[3:31:11 PM] Cory: Cricket even neutralizes threats between allies
[3:27:13 PM] Tristan More: That’s probably a whole mess of a bigger story, so…
[3:32:38 PM] Cory: The major reminds me of Omar Sharif
[3:33:30 PM] Cory: I guess you could accuse this of being prejudicial since it’s the white man as the savior.
[3:33:38 PM] Tristan More: ha, true
[3:34:02 PM] Tristan More: I thought it was just friends saving each other, but someone could make that point
[3:34:44 PM] Cory: In hindsight, I wish we had spent more time with Joshua and his sons before they departed for the war
[3:34:57 PM] Tristan More: Yeah, this isn’t as impactful for me
[3:35:09 PM] Tristan More: I mean, cool, good job surviving but still
[3:36:26 PM] Cory: He agonizes like Chewbacca
[3:36:36 PM] Tristan More: there’s that moaning again
[3:37:33 PM] Cory: “Chewie, quit that moaning and get us ten parsacs away from this Earthly bloodbath”
[3:42:21 PM] Tristan More: I knew water would have a part in this ending
[3:42:32 PM] Tristan More: they couldn’t just have him build a well in the beginning on not use that whatsoever again
[3:44:19 PM] Tristan More: yeah, that’s where it comes from
[3:44:39 PM] Tristan More: suddenly the hotel is doing really well?
[3:45:03 PM] Cory: It also looks strangely idyllic and Parisian
[3:46:03 PM] Cory: The coy coffee callback
[3:46:32 PM] Tristan More: Yeah, what’s up with that?
Tristan – Okay, so if you were to read along with this while watching the film, you’d gather that we definitely enjoyed Russell Crowe’s performance, as well as his direction. I believe he has a very straightforward method of getting his message across, but subtlety wasn’t needed in a movie like this. Crowe also gathers nice performances out of Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko and Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogan. The cinematography is sparse in the battle and location scenes, and intimate in conversational scenes. Crowe definitely elicits the feeling of interconnectivity by showing how similar Turkey and Australia are in their natural landscape. While some of the symbolism and metaphors are a bit obvious, Crowe and Kurylenko play it straight and don’t stray towards camp. The film is definitely respectful towards all the soldiers lost in the battle, and as a fan of historically based films, this one is going up to the top of the list for me. I’m proud of Crowe in his first directorial effort, and can’t wait to see more from him. Perhaps the studios will distribute his further efforts a bit better, but I can understand the reasoning that this might not have garnered a wider release. Most people aren’t all that excited to see a story about an Australian father searching for his World War I soldier sons in battle ravaged Turkey while learning a moral lesson about trust and culture. I, for one, am glad to have seen it, and hope it finds a wider audience in its limited release and later on home entertainment.
Cory- Obviously this was a passion project for Crowe who’s been seeking an outlet for his directorial urges. As such, it’s a fairly impressive debut with emotional complexity and jewels of performances throughout. Olga Kurylenko is luminous in spite of her character’s anal-retentiveness. Despite the melancholy nature of the story, Crowe doesn’t linger on the suffering (although the ambient sounds of dying soldier’s moans bristle the viewers with wrenching goosebumps). Crowe isn’t a naive idealist either. The slogan for Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Hughes is “the war is over”, but that is no solace for Crowe’s grieving father. He delves headlong into our ambivalence toward Major Hassan who committed atrocities during the war but is basically an estimable man. The cinematography of the Outback countryside is sumptuous, the storytelling is taut and the battle scenes in Gallipoli are epic instead of assaultive. This is an auspicious starting gate for Crowe the helmsman.