Not bad for a first film
Russell Crowe’s directorial debut proves a solid, heartfelt period piece firmly grounded by his reserved central performance and a thoughtful historical backdrop.Whilst inspiring some not unexpected animosity on the pro-Greek front, particularly with regard to some of the less pleasant actions by the Turks during the war, Crowe’s period exploration is less about legitimate history and more about sentiment, painting a picture of a wartorn country where thousands – nay, millions – of souls were lost on both sides, and where the once-invading Australian forces are not welcome any more. Amidst this chaos, Crowe’s hard-working water diviner father is struggling to cope with the loss of his three boys during the battle of Gallipoli in World War I. The War may be over, but the boys never returned – dead or alive – and their mother has clearly never been the same. Determined to find their bodies and return them to Australian soil, he travels to the land where they were lost only to find himself an unwelcome alien, struggling amongst a people whose culture and customs are alien to him. When an ageing Turkish commander joins the Australian contingent to help them recover their dead soldiers, tensions understandably flare, to say the least.The Water Diviner truly makes the most of some limited materials, with Crowe’s eye behind the camera capable of crafting a halfway-classically-style piece which could have easily been shot in another era of filmmaking entirely. Whilst centre-stage in the story, he allows the tale to be remarkably personal and heartfelt, exploring the subject-matter if not with accuracy then certainly with sensitivity, and tackling the shifting tides and blending cultures with equal parts warmth and attention to detail (particularly in the competently-staged battle sequences), whilst neither succumbing to sentimentality nor overt introspection. It’s not a grand Ridley Scott-esque piece, however Crowe has clearly learnt a thing or two from his mentor, and it frequently shows – in a good way. Yielding welcome support from a number of familiar faces – even Jai Courtney is more tolerable in his native accent – the love angle (involving Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) never quite earns its place amongst the rest of the story, and not all of the pieces quite fit into place (or ring true) but the film still proves a mature debut.
The Water Diviner’s strong 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation, framed in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 promotes an impressively classic look.
Basked in a golden aura that frequently slips into yellow-twinged realms which, in turn feel slightly uneasy, Crowe’s directorial eye – on the positive side – thankfully allows the film to frequently subsist in a different realm; as if it were shot several decades ago, with camera movements, close-ups shots, slow pans and zooms mostly working to benefit this more classically-orientated style. Slo-mo is perhaps the only poor choice, but the downside to much of this ‘style’ is the slightly softer look that the film showcases, with clarity and strong detail still presiding over the piece, but sometimes not quite at the level we have come to expect from modern productions. The effects, for the most part, work – the sandstorm is impressive considering the budget (but, conversely, the burning train car backdrop looks terrible) – and are well-integrated into the proceedings, and there’s a rich, warm texture which prevails throughout, whether on the studied close-ups or the picturesque long shots. Whilst never likely to be resoundingly demo-worthy, it’s a strong, atypical presentation for a strong, atypical film.
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a strong effort, but perhaps more easily predisposed towards demo glory.
Dialogue remains prevalent across the fronts and centre channels, disseminated with clarity and coherence throughout, whilst the suitably engaging strings-and-piano-based score – which also knows, unusually, just when to keep quiet – and surprisingly bombastic effects compete for scene-stealing support. The flashback battle sequences are almost more impressive aurally than they are visually, with gunfire crackling and booming across the array; the surrounds wielded with precision and impact, and the LFE channel affording the piece some tremendous underlying weight. Shells land, explosions ring out, steam trains spurt and stutter with brakes that screech; hooves clop and gallop across the stage and the material proves far more of a heavyweight contender on the aural front than anybody could have ever expected.
ExtrasThe Making of The Water Diviner is a reasonably comprehensive multi-part piece which takes us through – albeit swiftly – Crowe’s work in piecing together this fairly grand debut production. As if it did not already come across clearly enough in the film itself, Crowe really exudes passion for this project – its clearly close to his heart – and he takes us through some of the story ideas, the locations and increasingly tough location shoots, the authenticity they sought to achieve (if not in historical accuracy, then certainly in cosmetic accuracy, in terms of costumes, weaponry and environmental flourishes) and the post-production work done to finish off the end production.
A strong directorial debut from Crowe, and a solid Blu-ray package to promote it.
Very good video and excellent audio, together with some genuinely interesting extra material - itself driven by Crowe - makes The Water Diviner a decent purchase for fans and a worthy rental for those intrigued by what the veteran actor has learned after over a quarter of a century on the other side of the camera.
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