Film of the Week: The Water Diviner (15) ***

The Water Diviner
The Water Diviner
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In front of the camera, New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe has enjoyed critical and commercial success.

He came to the fore in 1997 as a brutish detective prone to violence in LA Confidential.

Successive Oscar nominations as Best Actor for The Insider, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, including a win for Ridley Scott’s swords and sandals epic, solidified his status as a performer with emotional depth to complement his physical presence.

For his directorial debut, Crowe casts himself as a crusading father, who will stop at nothing to locate his three fallen sons, in this fictional historical drama based on the book of the same name, which has been adapted for the big screen by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight.

The Water Diviner is a solid first effort including well-choreographed scenes of conflict and self-sacrifice during the Gallipoli Campaign in late 1915.

However, his film falls victim to heavy-handed sentiment when it comes to a central romance across the cultural divide that flourishes despite a total absence of on-screen chemistry with leading lady Olga Kurylenko.

Russell Crowe doesn’t have to stretch himself as a father in crisis, but his character’s search for answers certainly tugs heartstrings

Rugged farmer Joshua Connor (Crowe) possesses a rare gift for divining water, which he uses to irrigate the sprawling property he shares with his wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) and three sons Art (Ryan Corr), Edward (James Fraser) and Henry (Ben O’Toole).

The boys head off to war and perish in the ill-fated clash with Turkish forces on the Gallipoli peninsula.

Their final resting places are unknown, like so many who fought, and Eliza is devastated. Joshua honours a promise to his wife to bring the remains of their boys back home.

He seeks lodgings in Constantinople at a hotel run by Muslim widow Ayshe (Kurylenko) and her cherubic son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades).

Unfortunately, the military refuses to allow Joshua safe passage to Gallipoli so he ignores protocol and makes his own way to the site, where he clashes with Australian Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney).

Unexpectedly, a visiting Turkish officer, Major Hassan (Yilmaz Erdogan), takes pity and pledges his assistance to reunite Joshua with his boys because ‘he’s the only father who came looking.’

Blessed with lustrous cinematography, The Water Diviner is a heartfelt tale of broken men and redemption.

Crowe doesn’t have to stretch himself as a father in crisis, but his character’s search for answers certainly tugs heartstrings including a devastating scene of his three boys scythed down by Turkish bullets.

The romantic subplot doesn’t work and its resolution is unintentionally hilarious but the rest of Crowe’s first foray in the director’s chair shows promise.