'The Water Diviner': What the Critics Are Saying

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Russell Crowe's directorial debut tells the story of an Australian father searching for the remains of his sons after the WWI battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.

Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut and stars as an Australian father searching for the remains of his three sons after the bloody WWI battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. The film also features Olga Kurylenko, Isabel Lucas, Jai Courtney, and Turkish movie star/filmmaker Yilmaz Erdogan, making his English-speaking debut in film. 

After performing well overseas, winning the best film award at the 2015 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA), the film will hope to find a North American audience when it opens this Friday.

Read what top critics are saying about The Water Diviner:

The Hollywood Reporter's Megan Lehmann says Crowe “taps a deep well of symbolism, cultural empathy and good old-fashioned storytelling” with “a wealth of exotic, postcard-pretty locales.” The screenplay offers “an otherworldly counterpoint to the gruesome realities of war and its relentlessly painful aftermath. This is a film that doesn't glorify war a bit, despite the legend that has grown up around the tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops sacrificed during the failed offensive on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915.”

The film’s opening, “unconventionally for an Australian war film, provides a sympathetic view from behind enemy lines.” Later, “Crowe's film takes an unexpected turn, becoming both an intuitive exploration of Turkish culture and a respectful assertion that, although the Anzacs lost at Gallipoli, the Turks were losers too. The idea that grief confronts all nationalities caught up in the so-called Great War is embodied in the person of senior Turkish military officer Major Hasan [Erdogan]."

"The film gives a lot of space to emotions, but Crowe reins in his outsized personality to contribute an affecting, understated performance and, as director, underplays the allegories, particularly the recurring water motif, so they seep through the narrative organically," and the film's cinematography is "so exquisite that sometimes it alone propels the story."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis calls it "muddled. ... Crowe has signed onto a preposterous, would-be sweeping historical romance that’s far too slight and silly to carry the weight of real history. ... The movie wants to take you back to Gallipoli and honor its soldiers, both Australian and Turkish, but it never coherently establishes the specifics of Connor’s character or his context. It darts from mood to self-canceling mood — from upbeat to down, from sun to shadow — as Connor dowses water, mourns his dead, sails a boat, hops a train, rides a horse, romances a beauty and hotfoots it in and out of battle. In turn, Mr. Crowe disjointedly cycles through genres as if trying to decide which one fits: a father-son saga, a combat movie, a gauzy romance and a cross-cultural bromance." Yet "as director and actor, Crowe fares better once he splits this ludicrously false scene and switches into action mode, which gathers force as he cuts between Connor’s travels and flashbacks to Gallipoli. Some of these scenes are generic; others hit hard, including a trench fight that turns into an intimate frenzy of death and a harrowing vision of a man holding his guts while dying, breath by whimpered breath."

The Guardian's Mark Kermode notes the film is “not short on arresting images” and shifts “effectively between Lean-inflected widescreen vistas and more 'grainy' battlefield footage" while it “goes out of its way to foreground the Turkish losses in this terrible conflict.” However, it's a “shame, then, that The Water Diviner should be hobbled by a ludicrously Crowe-barred romance which sees Russell making goo-goo eyes at former Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko" which "push this from old-fashioned melodrama into modern-day mush."

Time Out London's Cath Clarke writes that Crowe “shows his squishy side as the director of this soft-hearted war melodrama." The first-time director “has worked with some of the best, and it’s rubbed off.” The film is “solid and old-fashioned” but “pulls in too many directions. . . Still, it might be overdone, but it’s never boring."

New York Observer's Rex Reed calls it a film  with “a lot of talk, none of it worth repeating, and a lot of sweat and dirt, none of it worth photographing.” Director Crowe’s “camera meanders all over the place; as an actor, he mumbles and growls his way through the carnage like it was nothing more important than a re-make of Gladiator, filmed on old sets from Gene Autry westerns. Which, by the end of nearly two hours of The Water Diviner, I would have happily welcomed.”