Movie review: The Water Diviner

Movie review:  The Water Diviner

War is definitely the gift that keeps on giving.  It was appropriate that The Water Diviner, a fictional post-World War I historical drama, opened the day before the 100th anniversary of the start of the military campaign which inspired it.  Russell Crowe directs and acts in the lead role and seems to gain a measure of redemption after foundering in Les Miserables.

The Gallipoli Campaign was, as one of the movie’s characters aptly describes, a battle lost by the British Army in a war won by the Allies.  The story begins in the NW Victoria home of the parents of three Australian soldiers who fought at Gallipoli some four years after the battle.  Australian farmer Joshua Connor (played by Crowe) who possesses the skill of locating water in arid places and his wife do their level best to continue on after their three soldier sons fail to return from the war.  Grief drives Connor’s wife to suicide after which he sets off to Turkey to find their remains with the intent of bringing them home.  It is 1919 by the time Connor arrives in Istanbul and the dynamics of relationships are upside down:  Turkey, whose army forced the withdrawal of British forces from Gallipoli during hostilities is now occupied by victorious British military personnel.  Turkish military officers, having won the battle but lost the war, resent having to have British military escorts in their own country.  This attitude also pervades the civilian populace but some are able to keep it under wraps in the name of good business.  A young boy who manages to capture Connor’s attention after his arrival in Istanbul leads him to a hostel managed by his mother, Ayshe (played by Olga Kurylenko).  Ayshe, whose husband was a Turkish officer who also did not return from Gallipoli, immediately turns cold when Connor reveals who he is and the purpose of his trip.  Ayshe’s brother-in-law reverses her withdrawn welcome given Conner is a paying guest.

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Connor tries but fails to obtain permission through official channels to travel to Gallipoli.  He eventually accepts the assistance from Ayshe, who is very slow to warm up to him, and travels with the help of a private fisherman.  He wades ashore at the battlefield and finds the British Army graves registration unit locating remains of those killed in action with the help of a Turkish Army officer, one Major Hasan portrayed by Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogan.  Hasan develops a grudging respect for Connor as he is “the only father who came looking” for his children.  During all this the savagery of the war is revisited by those present at the battlefield in short flashbacks.  The remains of Connor’s two youngest sons are found, one with a bullet hole in the skull, and cause and culprit are not as it initially seems.  As it turns out, the oldest brother was determined to not have died at Gallipoli and likely became a POW sending Connor on a journey to a region still in the throes of armed conflict as armed Greek forces take advantage of the post-war disarray of Turkey.  Major Hasan, now a member of the Turkish Nationalist Movement, accompanies Connor on his quest and the two become directly involved in the conflict with the Greeks.  Connor, with Hasan’s help, eventually discovers the fate of the his oldest son.

This film has a sweet plot in that the ending was as nice as it could have been given the circumstances.  In the end, losses were not insurmountable as the bereaved were able to move on and former enemies were finally able to see the humanity they failed to during hostilities.  The Water Diviner is a story about accepting consequences of what was ultimately a bad decision and taking personal responsibility for it, something the film illustrates on a personal level via Connor and national level with the British Army soldiers picking up the pieces of their deceased comrades years after the fact.  If the former enemies in this story can become friends and maybe even lovers it leaves the viewer with a badly needed sense of hope.  The acting is good as is the cinematography and historical depiction early 20th century Turkey and WWI combat.

I rate this movie 3 1/2 out of five stars.

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