The Water Diviner Review
Australia, 1919. Four years ago, Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) sent his three sons off to fight, and they never came back, listed as missing believed dead on the same day at Gallipoli. Four years later, the grief causes Connor's wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie, with whom Crowe costarred in Romper Stomper back in 1992) to take her own life. Connor travels to Turkey to bring back his sons' bodies and to find out the truth of how they died, which is not what he expected.
The opening credits play over a brief prologue during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. As Russell Crowe's directing credit comes up, we jump to rural Victoria, Australia, and we see Connor, accompanied by his dog, carrying out the action which gives the film its title. It's the only time we see him do it, and hear a triumphant yell as his digging yields a gush of water. That said, he does get a later speech talking about water divining and it seems also that his dowsing abilities also extend to finding where bodies are buried. Water divining, while literalised here, is also a metaphor for uncovering things, some of them best left buried.
The Gallipoli Campaign took place between April 1915 and January 1916, when 8709 Australians and 2721 New Zealanders were among the British Empire casualties, many of them missing and never seen again and presumed dead. This episode of the Great War left a profound scar on the minds of both nations. Cinematically, it has been pretty definitively treated by Peter Weir in his 1981 film Gallipoli. Thirty-three years after that film, just short of the centenary of the Campaign, Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut. It differentiates itself from Weir's film by not dealing with the Campaign and the battles itself. Other than that prologue (which is from the viewpoint of the Turkish forces) and brief flashbacks later on, The Water Diviner concerns itself with the aftermath. It's sincerely meant, but falls short of complete success.
The film's shortcomings are mainly in the script, based on true events but an original screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios. Crowe has the leading role but none of the other characters are much developed. That includes Connor's three sons, who aren't really distinguished from each other. The women in the film are underwritten, given strong actresses like Jacqueline McKenzie and Olga Kurylenko with not a great deal to do. A budding romance between Connor and Ayshe (Kuryenko, and don't ask why they cast a Ukrainian to play a Turk), herself in mourning, is rote and her son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades) make the film prone to an attack of the cutes. The film is overlong at 111 minutes and some scenes, such as Connor demonstrating cricket on a moving train, are a little indulgent. On the other hand, David Hirschfelder's score is fine and, with location shooting in both Australia and Turkey, it's a very good-looking film. Many first-time directors are partnered with a very experienced cinematographer. In this case that's Andrew Lesnie, whose career began in the late 1970s, and who is best known nowadays as the DP on all three Lord of the Rings films and all three Hobbits, winning an Oscar for The Fellowship of the Ring. The Water Diviner was his last film: he died in 2015 of a heart attack, aged fifty-nine.
Released in Australia on Boxing Day 2014, The Water Diviner was nominated for eight AACTA Awards, winning three: for Yilmaz Erdogan as Best Supporting Actor, for Tess Schofield's costume design and for Best Film, sharing the latter with The Babadook. When distribution of Australian films in the UK is by no means guaranteed, and sometimes means a brief outing at a number of cinemas you could count on one hand, The Water Diviner did get a UK cinema release and, even more rarely, was an Australian film I saw at my local multiplex.
Entertainment One's Blu-ray of The Water Diviner begins with trailers for other E1 releases: No Escape, Child 44 and The Good Lie. You can however fast-forward or skip these with your remote.
The Water Diviner was shot digitally, using both the Arri Alexa and the Red Epic. The Blu-ray transfer is in the intended ratio of 2.40:1. There's little to say excapt that as this is a new film, existing purely in the digital realm from beginning to end (if there were any 35mm prints, I didn't see one), it looks pristine. Lesnie's cinematography makes the most of the strong light of two very hot locations, blacks are solid and shadow detail fine – in short it looks as it did when I saw it in the cinema as a 2K DCP, and so it should.
The soundtrack is available in DTS-HD MA, both 5.1 and a 2.0 track which plays as surround. There's main differences between the two is that the 5.1 is mixed louder and the LFE channel enhances the low end, noticeable straight away in the bass notes of Hirschfelder's score and particularly in the flying bullets of the battle scenes. It isn't the most all-bells-and-whistles sound mix out there, but it does its job perfectly well. There is also a Dolby Surround (2.0) audio-descriptive track and English hard-of-hearing subtitles. Fixed English subtitles translate scenes with dialogue in foreign languages, mostly Turkish.
The only extra is a making-of documentary (18:56), which is topped and tailed by Crowe giving to camera his three most important filmmaking attributes. There's a wider range of interviewees this time round, with not just the director and other castmembers saying their piece but with also brief tours round the makeup and costume departments, and a look in at the work of the armourer, horse master, editor and composer.