Full disclosure: Turkey is a country I visited after a number of years of my own personal "research"; it made a huge impact on me during my readings, and my visit in 2004 only served to intensify my love for all things Turkish. I recognize that what the Ottoman Empire did against the Armenians was genocide, and I believe that the current Turkish government should take ownership of their country's history. That being said, I still have an unapologetic love and admiration for the country, the people, and their history--warts and all.
The film marks the debut of Russell Crowe calling the shots behind the camera, and it is a shaky, but admirable start. The Water Diviner is a good, not great, film, and some of the criticism that has come down on it about not depicting the Armenian genocide is a little unfair. Andrew O'Hehir may believe that what happened to Armenians should have been a necessary part of this film, but when you consider that the film is already a bit muddled in the middle, adding genocide into a story that is ostensibly about a man trying to reclaim his sons would have been a bit much. And although the Armenians' story is a very important one to tell, Russell Crowe is not the one to tell it.
Where Crowe does achieve great success is in depicting the Turks as they are: wonderfully hospitable, honorable, reverent of their history, conflicted, and flawed, but not vilified or glorified. They are a complex people with a complex history, and no one film is going to be able to capture all that they are or all of the good or ill that they have accomplished. That would take a series of films by far more talented individuals, but perhaps The Water Diviner is the beginning of something good.
Visually speaking it is an attractive film, but the stretched-out and slow-mo images at two points feel like a director trying to be too artistic and creative when the story really does it all for you. As for the three brothers, there is virtually no connection with them at all, as they are seen only a handful of times in a few too many flashbacks. The viewer will sympathize with Crowe's emotions regarding his sons, but we feel almost no connection to the sons themselves...at least not until a critical, and obvious, battlefield scene. Also obvious is the man-meets-woman-who-dislikes-him-but-comes-to-love-him subplot that is a tad forced...along with Olga Kurylenko's terrible Turkish accent.
Russel Crowe may not hit it out of the park when it comes to directing, but he does well enough in his role as the father to earn some respect, and possibly some nominations. It is Yılmaz Erdoğan who is the true star of the film, and he will no doubt receive an Oscar nomination for his performance. He brings a certain nobility and power to the role of Major Hasan, especially when he reminds, "You invaded us"; but he also shows humanity as he says, "This is their home now" in regard to all of those Anzacs who were lost during the eight month Gallipoli campaign.
That statement reflects what is posted at the Gallipoli Memorial:
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours...you the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."This film isn't intended to be history or to relay it accurately. It is intended to elicit an emotional response. Crowe is successful in that regard...at least within the first ten minutes and then again toward the end. The middle is a mash-up of the beginnings of love and revolution, with a final scene that smells more like a romantic comedy than a drama. That being said, there is enough here to make it worth seeing, and it can be enjoyable at times, but brilliant film making it is not.
For the most part, this is a film that will hold the interest of those who are fascinated by WWI, enjoy period pieces, and/or are interested Turkey, but may not strike a chord with the average movie goer--as evidenced by the fact that I was alone for the entire duration of the film on a Saturday night. If I were to give this an actual ranking based on the film itself, and not on my sentimentality for Turkey, I'd still give it about a 6 out of 10.