It seems appropriate that The Water Diviner should get its UK release over the Easter weekend. A film for all the family, with a feeling of deep spiritual significance; it is one of the few truly conservative Christian-friendly recent movie releases. Even the most easily offended are unlikely to find something to hate about it. Aside from the fact, maybe, that it’s directed by Russell Crowe, ‘the guy from that Noah film’ last year which dared to take liberties with its source material.
This being Crowe’s directorial debut, one cannot blame him for coming up with what feels like a rather safe effort here. A ‘historical fiction’ drama, the film sees main character Joshua Connor, played by Crowe himself, going in search of his missing sons thought killed in conflict during the first World War. Upon discovering that one of them could still be alive, and led by an unknown (almost prophetic) compulsion which people will likely attribute to God’s divine guidance, Connor intensifies his search for the lost son in the same way a shepherd refuses to stop pursuing a lost sheep – even should that sheep not wish to be found.
Along the way Connor becomes romantically involved with a recently widowed Turkish woman (French actress and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko); a plot detail I would have found more believable had Connor himself not just buried his own wife before setting off on his journey, after she committed suicide in the film’s opening. This element contributes to an overall feeling of ‘going through the storytelling motions’ – I got the sense that the only reason The Water Diviner contained romance at all was because it is simply what one puts in the script for any typical big budget historical drama.
Interestingly my favourite parts of the film had little to do with the characters themselves or their relationships with each other. It has a couple of political statements in mind regarding war-time ethics and the fine moral lines that are sometimes crossed by those whom we would otherwise consider to be the ‘good side’, in order to get the best outcome for themselves. The film does have something useful and informative to offer about Turkish-British-Greek relations in the aftermath of the first World War, and Turkish cultural norms are also challenged, in this case predictably for the sake of love. But in truth none of these things are unique concepts that had me excited about this film.
That The Water Diviner tied with The Babadook for Best Film at this year’s Aacta awards (the Australian equivalent of the Oscar’s) was, I think, indicative of a certain conflict within some sectors of the film industry when it comes to pleasing their audience. On the one hand, it represents a great injustice that these two films are made out to be equal in their quality. As directorial debuts go, Jennifer Kent blows Crowe out of the water. Hers is simply the superior film by far…
Yet I know many in an average audience may disagree. Those who don’t like to be provoked to think too much about their viewing experience will perhaps prefer The Water Diviner; a film that wears its heart and all of its other components on its sleeve. You have here all the parts necessary for a typical ‘feel-good’ experience, with a conservative romantic subplot and a happy ending to follow a story of tragedy. If that kind of thing sounds good to you then, by all means, don’t let the fact that I found the film to be a distinctly average, unoriginal movie harm your enjoyment of it.
For the rest of you, The Babadook is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.
5 / 10