Monday, May 04, 2015

"The Water Diviner" is rather like a modern Australian western

The Water Diviner”, Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, is an Australian western, and then a Turkish western, with plot elements from forgotten history that seem novel, but were more common in films a half century ago.  And it is quite layered, with a tragic backstory.
Crowe plays Joshua Connor, a rancher in South Australia raising three boys with his wife  Ekiza (Jacqueline MacKenzie).  He has taught his sons how to find water and irrigate the ranch.  He’s also taught them other outback wilderness skills, as when they get caught in a dust storm (haboob).
The boys go off to fight for the Crown in World War I, and are lost in the Battle of Gallipoli,  very important to the Ottoman Turks.  Eliza drowns herself, although Josh argues with a local priest that it was an accident.  Josh goes to Constantinople to look for the bodies of his sons.  The film makes a point of telling us (in the closing credits) that more than 8 million casualties from WWI were never identified. The script tells us that this has been true of all wars before modern times.
What follows seems like an improbable adventure, starting when a ten year old boy steals his luggage to get him to chase up to a hotel for a room (run by a waffling woman played by Olga Kurylenko).  This becomes more like your Screenwriting 101 (for writers Andrew Wright and Andrew Anastasios) in maintaining rooting interest from one crisis to the next.  Josh gets inappropriately mixed up in a family conflict at the hotel, challenging the Muslim concept of honor.  But he gets himself, despite bureaucracy, to the island, where he has to encounter the military brass (like Jai Courtney’s character) and eventually win their sympathy.  He winds up, after a train chase, in a small Turkish town where he finds the one remaining son Arthur (Ryan Corr), who surely enough, has put his water diving skills to work.
The back story concerning the battle scenes is excruciating, with the pain of war after horrible maiming of one of the brothers.  How people would know such details (largely from stories from the military officers) does present a problem in the integrity of a plot for a movie like this.  Finally, of course, Josh has to find out the worst from a confession from Arthur.
The film, for me at least, heightens the personal sacrifice of war, something lost on most people in younger generations who don’t understand what military conscription means in a democratic society. See my Issues blog posting May 3 for a sermon on the topic.)
The official site is here.
The film is distributed in the US by Warner Brothers, with its full Casablanca label.  Usually, a film produced in this manner with overseas sources (in Australia) is distributed as it were “independent”, but Warner Brothers, for some reason, no longer uses its Warner Independent Pictures trademark.  Overseas, the film is distributed b E-One (which often partners with Lionsgate) and Universal. 
Wikipedia attribution link for public domain NASA photo of South Australia 

I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic, before a fair late Sunday afternoon crowd.

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