The Water Diviner
When we first see Joshua Connor, he is using metal rods to search for water on his arid farm in the Australian outback. He manages to find it after painstaking labor, and returns home to read to his children. The camera widens out to reveal that Connor is reading to empty beds. The earlier comments Connor’s wife made about their sons become far more chilling when we realize that she is delusional and that the young men died fighting in World War I.
Within the first ten minutes of The Water Diviner, we are treated to the overplayed “based on true events” line, gruesome deaths on the battlefield, and a suicide. These are just the first few instances of a long and tiring line of blustery actions the film employs to jerk as many tears as possible out of the audience. None of Connor’s sons came home from fighting in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, and Connor suddenly vows to travel all the way to Turkey to find his sons’ bodies and take them home to be reburied. The feasibility of an Australian farmer locating the remains of three people out of a war zone of tens of thousands of corpses is actually one of the less far-fetched aspects of this story. Connor, played by Russell Crowe, is competent at expressing grief during appropriate moments, but comes up short when trying to convey any other emotion. As director of this cinematic clunker, it is apparent that he admires the dreadfully positive style of Cameron Crowe and Lasse Hallström, and The Water Diviner ends up failing to impart any intelligent statement about war and its aftershocks.
Arriving in Istanbul, Connor encounters the clichés ubiquitous in any movie about a clueless white protagonist new to a foreign land. He gets lost in a labyrinthine bazaar, is repulsed by the unfamiliar food, and stares in confusion as the locals attempt to chat to him in Turkish. Conveniently, all the Turks relevant to the plot speak excellent English. Ayshe, a beautiful widow, and her adorable son Orhan show up as props to ease Connor into Turkish culture. Orhan is still waiting for his father to come home, but the later revelation that his father is dead doesn’t bother him much. Connor hits a brick wall in the form of a heartless bureaucrat who is all sneers and scowls, but manages to find some lucky breaks that permit the plot to limp on. Later, a dream Connor enables him to risk his life and make a discovery that stretches credulity. By the final moments of the movie, it is no longer a serious story, but a parade of wishful thinking, and the audience is dying for the movie to end as soon as possible.
Like many other elements of the movie, subplots appear and disappear without leaving any impression on our minds. A few scenes depict a fomenting Turkish nationalist movement, and at one point, the movie thinks so little of its audience that the captions read “Turkish nationalist rally” to make an obvious thing even more obvious. Ultimately, though, nothing remotely exciting happens with the secret societies and fiery speeches briefly shown.Ayshe’sfather appears to have dementia, and Ayshe’s friend is a prostitute, but these potentially interesting bits barely germinate and never bear fruit.Ayshefaces the looming threat of an arranged marriage from a dullard who can’t be called a one-note villain, because that would be an insult to one-note villains. This threat culminates in a fight and promptly is discarded once the emotions have cooled. The stakes are so low for this subplot that viewers could be forgiven for completely forgetting it. Occasionally, a few aspects of Turkish culture get wheeled out and then are quietly abandoned, from acircumcisionpartytotherole of coffee in determining courtship. The explanations given for each of them have all the seriousness of a knock-knock joke, and remain annoyingly superfluous instead of contributing anything important to the overall film.
When the story is not being soporific, it is being incomprehensible. The movie is fond of splicing incongruently lighthearted moments with an overlying atmosphere of violence and intrigue. A brief scene in which Connor teaches his Turkish comrades, how to play cricket is particularly egregious. This occurs right before the party is attacked by one-dimensionally wicked Greek marauders who would fit in better in a Saturday morning cartoon than a supposedly profound movie about the lingering damage war does to its participants. While Connor’s sons are slowly dying after being shot, one of them spends several minutes faking pain through groans that are more painful than the actual wounds shown onscreen. The scene is obviously intended to be tragic, but is unintentionally ridiculous, highlighting how juvenile this film’s storytelling and atmosphere are.
The Water Diviner is a mostly meaningless mishmash of dialogue and scenes that are too cheery to have any gravitas, yet too grim to contain any humor. It combines the mushiness of a Nicholas Sparks movie with the false emotions infesting Pearl Harbor, producing a thin and meandering plot that manages to turn a happy ending into something deeply unsatisfying. It is not really one movie, but an unorganized kaleidoscope of many short movies with no coherent message, and while Connor will not rest until he accomplishes his quest, we cannot wait for him to return to Australia and never again go on another adventure.