Russell Crowe goes Oscar hunting in the directors chair with The Water Diviner, a historical fiction about a father’s search for his dead sons after the WWI battle at the Ottoman. It’s clear early on that Crowe doesn’t have the subtle subjective hand to make such done-to-death subject matter any more compelling than what has gone before it.

Olga Kurlyenko is great to look at but can’t act. Russell Crowe can act and does his usual thing of being gruff and charmingly unapproachable, but his mood fluctuates too inappropriately in this. You watch it and can’t help but wish there was a better director to navigate the tone. But no, it’s Crowe that’s calling the shots. Admittedly though, there are some nice shots in it, with some nifty tracking across the scenery, particularly in his home that engages and might even surprise. Structurally the films solid but becomes predictable and towards the end just downright pedestrian.

The Water Diviner

Like in any war movie the battle scenes are key. In this film they are shit. Not for the want of trying, they’re shot at considerable scale and there’s no little amount of energy shown when the Aussie’s and Turks throw down. But, blurred slow motion has been outmoded since the turn of the last century and it’s largely used to compensate for an actions scenes lack of tension. Neither does Crowe feel the need to bother with such gimmicks as filmic realism. All I’ll say is this, if you shoot someones face from absolute point-blank range, it’s going to do more damage than a cut on the forehead.

The title refers to Russell Crowe’s less than holistic profession of someone who uses his senses to detect water underground and plunge it out. The efficacy of this is something the movie is pretty ambivalent about, but sees enough to allow Crowes character to suss out his sons remains in the rubble four years after they were killed. That’s fine, family connections and all that, but you can’t help but think the title was dreamed up as a way to shift the story along in order to draw some blood. One of the opening scenes with Crowe using his apparatus (coathanger) to find water and dig it out is dangerously close to the introduction in Their Will Be Blood. Possible spoilers here, but Russell Crowe is no Daniel Plainview. And he’s certainly no Paul Thomas Anderson.

It’s a perfectly serviceable film, it’s nowhere near bad enough to get angry at, it plays it safe enough to avoid offending, but it’s surely made it into cinemas because the director is Superman’s dad. And that’s the frustration of this movie – I really, really wanted to care. Even if that meant expending energy in hating it rather than just thinking it was okay. Nothing. You can tell that Crowe had good intentions, this was more than an Aussie flag-waving exercise for him, he wanted to tell a story. But he doesn’t have the tools to do it, and no amount of twisted coathangers is going to change that.