The Water Diviner


Love can be illuminating.

Love can be illuminating.

(2014) Drama (Warner Brothers) Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Dylan Georgiades, Steve Bastoni, Isabel Lucas, Salih Kalyon, Megan Gale, Ryan Corr, James Fraser, Ben O’Toole, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jack Douglas Patterson, Ben Norris, Aidan Liam Smith, Damon Herriman, Sophia Forrest. Directed by Russell Crowe

The bond between father and son can be complicated. There’s always an element of competition between them; the old lion wants to have the loudest roar even as the younger lions are coming into their own. Still when push comes to shove, there isn’t a father who wouldn’t move heaven and earth for their children…sometimes even when hope is lost.

Joshua Connor (Crowe) has a farm in Australia. It’s not an easy life; water isn’t easy to come by in the arid landscape. However, with the use of a pair of sticks and his unerring instincts he is able to find places to dig wells that he desperately needs. It’s a hard life but it’s a good one – or would be. You see, Joshua sent his three sons Arthur (Corr), Edward (Fraser) and Henry (O’Toole) to war, in this case World War I. With many troops from their part of the world, they went to invade Gallipoli in Turkey and many thousands of young men in the ANZAC (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) died in the attempt which ultimately failed. All three of Joshua’s sons were among the dead.

The grief of the loss of all her sons had led Joshua’s wife (McKenzie) to take her own life. Now with nobody and nearly four years gone, Joshua feels obligated to go to Gallipoli and bring the remains of his sons back home. However, there’s a problem there – basically so many soldiers died in the battle, one of the bloodiest of the First World War – that proper burials are only now just happening, led by an English Colonel (Courtney) who is being assisted by the Turkish officer Major Hasan (Erdogan) who led the Turkish forces at the battle. Civilians are not welcome – not that there are any clamoring to go. The battle site is still full of booby traps and other dangers that make it a dangerous place even in peacetime.

But Joshua has nothing to lose. With the help of Ayshe (Kurylenko), the owner of the hotel he is staying at in Istanbul and Orhan (Georgiades) her adorable moppet of a son he manages to make it past the British bureaucracy which is dead set on preventing his passage to Gallipoli. Once he makes it there though he acquires the friendship of Hasan, even though he commanded the forces that led to the deaths of his sons – and discovers that even amidst the carnage, hope exists. He also discovers that love might exist as well with the hotel owner whose husband disappeared in the same battle and is presumed dead, although she holds out hope that he may yet return.

Normally the presence of Crowe in front of the camera would insure a wide American release for a film, but the story is a bit of a hard sell to American audiences. Gallipoli doesn’t mean as much to us as it does to audiences in Australia and New Zealand, where the battle is part of the national identity. Released on the 100th anniversary of the battle, the story isn’t so much about the fight as it is of a father’s devotion to his children, even after they’re dead. It is about¬† his grief and his healing.

Crowe remains a compelling presence, giving one of his best performances in years. Joshua is a quiet and powerful presence, never demonstrative although once he begins interacting with the irresistible Orhan does he begin to start coming out of his shell. There is a bit of an aura of the supernatural here – Joshua has visions of his sons in the battle and is able to infer things that he shouldn’t have been able to know. The more practical-minded among the audience will find that whole concept to be poppycock, although the connection a parent has with their children and the way parents can sometimes know things they shouldn’t about their kids can’t be discounted.

This would be the last movie lensed by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie who also shot most of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films and he makes a stark contrast between Australia with it’s blade blue skies and dusty earth, and with Istanbul with its Blue Mosque and beautiful interiors. Then there’s Gallipoli itself with a lovely beach but once over the first hill becomes a scorched hell. Crowe made a smart choice in that department and it will remain part of Lesnie’s lasting legacy as one of the great cinematographers of his – and our – day.

Most of the battle is seen through flashbacks, particularly those that concern the brothers but those scenes can be pretty brutal with limbs getting blown off and young bodies being shredded by machine guns and artillery fire. Crowe doesn’t shy away from these scenes that depict the horrors of war, those who are upset by such things should be forewarned.

I generally don’t respond to specific criticisms of a film brought up by a different film critic but Andrew O’Hehir’s excoriation of Crowe and Warner Brothers, calling this a “disgraceful” film for not mentioning the Armenian genocide which occurred roughly at the same time the battle of Gallipoli was fought, is absolutely mind-boggling. Yes, there are sympathetic Turkish characters here but not all Turks participated in the Genocide which occurred hundreds of miles away and essentially before the main action of the film begins – the battle itself is pretty much only seen in flashbacks other than the opening scene which depicts the withdrawal of troops from Gallipoli. But what is disgraceful is a critic suggesting that a filmmaker not mentioning something that has absolutely nothing to do with his film or the events in it is somehow morally wrong and insensitive. Talk about Liberal Guilt.

For a debut effort in the director’s chair Crowe has come up with a pretty impressive film. Of course, when you have Russell Crowe to star in your first film you’ve got an advantage over most right there. I don’t know what Crowe the director did to inspire Crowe the actor but whatever it was, it resulted in a compelling performance that confirms Crowe’s star power. There is an epic sweep here that reminds me of movies from a bygone era.

The movie hasn’t gotten any sort of push from Warners and has been essentially released as an independent film in select cities. It isn’t easy to find but it is well worth seeking out; this is a surprisingly powerful film that I believe will appeal to more than just Australian audiences.

REASONS TO GO: Strong performance by Crowe who remains a compelling presence. Gripping storyline. Lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Relies on Joshua’s visions and instincts a bit too much. The battle scenes may be too intense for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: War violence and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The horse that Crowe rides in the Australia scenes is actually his own horse, Honey.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Legends of the Fall
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Age of Adaline

New Releases for the Week of April 24, 2015


Ex-MachinaEX-MACHINA

(A24) Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alice Vikander, Corey Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani. Directed by Alex Garland

A programmer at an internet search company wins a competition to spend a week with the reclusive CEO in his secluded mountain estate. Once there, he discovers that this isn’t a paid vacation; he’s been selected as the human component in a Turing test of a new artificial intelligence, testing the capabilities and essentially the self-awareness of Ava, who turns out to be much more than the sum of her parts and much more than either man could have predicted.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence)

The Age of Adaline

(Lionsgate) Blake Lively, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker. A freak automobile accident in 1935 leaves young Adaline ageless and deathless. However, immortality proves to be more of a curse than a gift and she spends 80 years hiding her secret and running away from life until she finds the possibility of love. A weekend with his parents though threatens to expose her secret, leaving her to make a momentous decision.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and preview video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for a suggestive comment)

Brotherly Love

(Freestyle Releasing) Keke Palmer, Cory Hardict, Faizon Love, Macy Gray. Philadelphia’s Overbrook High has been one of the most prestigious basketball powerhouses in the country ever since Wilt Chamberlain played there. Now, a young student there has been named the number one prospect in the country. Dealing with high school alone is no easy task but to have that kind of pressure on top of it is nearly impossible.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for violence and language)

Desert Dancer

(Relativity) Nazanin Boniadi, Freida Pinto, Tom Cullen, Marama Corlett. Afshin Ghaffarian wanted nothing more than to express himself through dance. Unfortunately, he lived in Iran where the imams had forbidden dance and any attempt for him to learn how to was met with terrible punishments. After co-founding an underground dance group there, he runs afoul of Iranian authorities and is forced to flee his home, but he comes to Paris more determined than ever to achieve his dream.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama/Dance
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some drug material and violence)

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

(Amplify) Rinko Kikuchi, Noboyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, Nathan Zellner. A Japanese office drone discovers a VHS copy of the Coen Brothers classic film Fargo. Fed up with her mundane existence and possessed of an imagination that can’t be held in by the confines of her dreary job and her tiny apartment, she seizes on the idea that the buried treasure in the film is real and that the cash is waiting for her to find in the rugged prairies of North Dakota.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Little Boy

(Open Road) Kevin James, David Henrie, Michael Rappaport, Emily Watson. A 7-year-old boy is devastated when his father is called off to fight World War II. However, chats with the family pastor lead him to believe that his faith can move mountains. And it seems that it may be literally true. However, will it be enough to bring his dad home safely from war?

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and violence)

The Salt of the Earth

(Sony Classics) Sebastiao Salgado, Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Lelia Warnick Salgado. The life and career of Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado, whose pictures have shown stark beauty and the depths of human cruelty. His photographs have drawn attention to suffering and privation in the four corners of the earth. Noted German director Wim Wenders was so moved by Salgado’s work that he made a documentary about him, something Wenders isn’t particularly known for.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving disturbing images of violence and human suffering, and for nudity)

See You in Valhalla

(ARC Entertainment) Sarah Hyland, Steve Howey, Odeya Rush, Jake McDorman. A young woman returns home following the untimely death of her brother, finding her family as dysfunctional as ever. Old jealousies, feuds and disagreements resurface and the family seems to sink further into dysfunction until a brilliant idea to send off the brother in style is suggested.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for language, sexual references and drug use)

The Water Diviner

(Warner Brothers) Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan. An Australian farmer is devastated by the news that both of his sons were declared missing presumed dead in the epic battle of Gallipoli during the First World War. Four years after the battle, he journeys to Gallipoli to find out once and for all the fate of his sons and get some closure but with the help of a compassionate Turkish officer and the woman whose hotel he is staying in, he discovers hope amidst the carnage.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for war violence including some disturbing images)