|'Crowe's direction proves - satisfyingly enough for film scribblers everywhere - to be the mirror of his on-screen presence; unfussy, solid, steeped in a desire to marry grandstanding with heft, presence and satisfaction.'|
The Water Diviner may go down in history as the film which gave reason to hope about Jai Courtney's acting abilities. Playing a sympathetic Australian Lieutenant Colonel, who helps Russell Crowe's bereft father in his search for his sons' bodies, Courtney isn't quite a revelation. He is though a solid, likeable presence, someone who you can happily watch and even notice appreciably in support. It's a marked improvement.
Courtney is not the main story here however, for that is surely Crowe, making his directorial debut, whilst turning in a reliably dependable star turn. Crowe's direction proves - satisfyingly enough for film scribblers everywhere - to be the mirror of his on-screen presence; unfussy, solid, steeped in a desire to marry grandstanding with heft, presence and satisfaction. This is, after all, the man who famously delivered 'are you not entertained?' with such gusto.
The answer to that question in relation to The Water Diviner is a fairly unequivocal 'yes'. Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios' script does a good job of boiling down the horrors of the battle of Gallipoli into the microcosm of Connor (Crowe) and his sons. The presentation might be a little light on the 'horror' element, but the film is set largely after the battle and Crowe respectfully shoots the story with a mixture of melancholy and soft-focus romance for 'the east'.
In fact, Crowe is surprisingly at home with the melancholy and the romance when compared with the handful of times he has to direct the action. A trench-based charge, in particular, looks like something out of Blackadder and an un-needed climax occasionally has the feel of an iPhone castle defence game.
Meanwhile, in the softer focus area, Connor fosters a relationship with Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko). Crowe battles to keep this both relevant and on the right side of taste, considering the character has lost his entire family in tragic circumstances. The Water Diviner does just about manage it, but there's tension throughout.
If there's one single thing you can pick out from the film about Crowe's direction, it's that he's not quite there in terms of balancing a host of competing elements, which have the potential to jar against each other. The motif of the titular water diviner, for example, flits into and out of the film, suggesting a near mystical element but never quite committing to it. The muddled history of the region too is explored fairly poorly, with one nation added into the fray at the conclusion to serve as the aggressor the plot needs at that point. The balancing issues though feel resolvable and it's a pleasure to find a film from a debut director that's both base-level satisfying and competently composed.