It really shouldn’t be all that surprising when seasoned actors become directors. After all, the most famous lament in Hollywood is “… but I really want to direct.”
And when an actor has finally earned enough clout to step behind the camera, a large number of them actually turn out to be pretty decent. Of course, it makes sense that after spending a career working intimately for months at a time with the finest directors the world has to offer something has to rub off.
Russell Crowe is the latest star to make that leap into the director’s chair with “The Water Diviner,” a period piece set in the aftermath of World War I. The results are not half bad. Crowe proves himself to be a more than competent director even if the movie itself does wind up getting a little lost in the weeds.
Crowe directs himself as Conner, a heartbroken Australian father who journeys halfway around the world to locate the final resting place of his three sons. The boys fell in the Battle of Gallipoli, a bloody conflict that holds the same psychic space for Australia as Iwo Jima or the beaches of Normandy do for the USA.
When Conner arrives in Istanbul, he encounters the full bureaucracy of the English Empire, which throws up barrier after barrier.
Conner finally makes his way to Gallipoli, where he finds a small but determined military detail led by Lt-Col. Hughes (Jai Courtney) scouring the battlefield four years after the bodies fell in an attempt to put a name with every corpse and to provide a proper burial.
They have even gone as far as enlisting the help of former enemies like Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) to forensically unpack the battlefield.
Crowe jams these scenes with pathos while mixing in some harrowing flashbacks to drive home the violent futility of war.
Themes of redemption and forgiveness clomp through this movie like a herd of elephants, especially as Conner and Hasan forge an unlikely friendship.
Where this movie really loses its way is back in Istanbul, where Conner befriends a widowed innkeeper (the stunning Olga Kurylenko) and her young son.
With all the raw emotions of a father searching for his dead sons flying around, a romantic subplot burdened by a culture clash feels clumsily tacked on.
That said, I can see where he was coming from. If I was a director and someone gave me the excuse to make googly eyes with a woman like Kurylenko, I’d leap at it too. Good on ya, ‘mate.
Even still, the movie holds together and Crowe proves he has the chops to direct. “The Water Diviner” may not be perfect, but for a guy dabbling in a different career, it’s a pretty good start.
“The Water Diviner” is rated “R” for war violence and some disturbing images.