The Water Diviner

While Russell Crowe fails to match the power of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic 1929 novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”, give him credit for trying.

The Water DivinerRussell Crowe directs and stars in The Water Diviner, a movie bearing a lot of similarity to this year’s Woman in Gold. While both films have powerful moments centering around two accomplished actors, they are laced with distractions that make them good but not great.

Ironically, Woman in Gold was at its best when Austria was invaded in 1938 by Nazi Germany.  In The Water Diviner, the film produces a tremendous impact when it focuses on the catastrophic World War I battle in Gallipoli where tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed, including Mr. Crowe’s three Australian sons. When Crowe’s wife commits suicide because she couldn’t live with the pain, he decides to travel to Turkey in 1919 to find the bodies of his sons and return them to his home country to be buried next to their mother.

As Crowe fights British and Turkish authorities to obtain access to the Gallipoli battlefield, the night resulting in his sons’ death is replayed in heartbreaking fashion. They are not only gunned down by machine gun fire, but one of the lads has to decide whether to kill his brother to put him out of his misery. The war may have ended close to 100 years ago, but it is quite obvious why the film was dedicated to the thousands who died without their bodies ever being recovered.

As Crowe’s agonizing journey continues, he is shocked to learn that one of this three sons was taken prisoner on that fateful night. While he tries to find out if he is still alive, the movie focuses on both his relationship with a young widow (Olga Kurylenko) running a small hotel in Istanbul and a Turkish veteran of Gallipoli (Yilmaz Erdogan) who attempts to lend a helping hand. Though both hold their own opposite Crowe, it is here that the film loses a bit of focus that drains the emotional impact of the entire movie.

As I watched this film, I was reminded of a trip through Europe I took with three friends over ten years ago where we spent eight days visiting various battlefields. Quite frankly, it is hard to condemn the battles going on in the Middle East today when we are reminded of the millions of young European boys who were shot and gassed to death during this wretched war.

If you doubt that, go visit Verdun which contains a museum where separate rooms contain skulls, arms and legs recovered from the surrounding battlefield that could never be identified. Furthermore, visit the numerous cemeteries maintained throughout France where each is lined with crosses that read, “Here lies an unknown soldier.”

The Water Diviner tells a small story of an Australian family destroyed in a World War having no purpose. It has meaning today, as we simply can’t pretend to condemn the actions of others in a world that seems to have gone mad if we choose to forget that the Western World previously lost its mind. After all, it was only after that conflict ended that Western powers redrew the boundaries of the Middle East that are still causing immense problems at this very moment in time.