Water Diviner competent, may deny genocide

If there’s two things he loves, it’s well digging / and! / well-digging ’round the world. Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

If there’s two things he loves, it’s directing / and! / directing ’round the world…

Russell Crowe stars in what is also his directoral debut, The Water Diviner. Crowe plays Joshua Connor, an Australian well-digger who’s ability to sense groundwater is, well, divine. It’s implied that his ability is literally magical. Connor’s three sons, Arthur (Ryan Corr), Edward (James Fraser) and Henry (Ben O’Toole) were killed in the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I five years earlier. His wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie), mad with grief, drowns herself at the film’s start. With nothing left for him in Australia, Connor journeys to Turkey to find his sons’ remains and bring them home.

The film is nondescript. Not quite boring, but it doesn’t hold attention the way a movie really ought. It’s all competent and even makes it easy to feel for an atheist character who’s motivation is to make sure his family is buried in holy ground. Few people care about corpses until they have corpses they care about, and The Water Diviner helps the audience have that transformation alongside its main character.

Crowe’s reputation has been in a steady, drearily slow tailspin since 2000’s Gladiator, but he does a decent job in front of the camera here and doesn’t Crowe it up too much, except for the scene discovering his wife’s body. As a fledgling director, this is the biggest favor he could have done himself.

The most interesting part of the movie is the controversy. The movie’s release, April 24, was the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide, carried out by the Ottomans after driving out the Allied forces at Gallipoli. The religious cleansing of between .8 and 1.5 million took place essentially between Gallipoli and the U.K. returning and taking Constantinople in 1918, which lead to the empire’s dissolution. It’s recognized as the first modern genocide, and is the second most studied genocide after the Holocaust. The English were holding trials for it in Malta when the film is set, but it simply doesn’t mention anything about it.

The Turkish government continues to deny the genocide, and the U.S. federal government has also failed to recognize it for largely political reasons, though more than 40 states do. Activists have called The Water Diviner Turkish propaganda that white-washes history, and that could be true, or it could just as easily be an oversight. It would make sense that Connor wouldn’t encounter that conflict, but the movie does go to great lengths to show him learning the Turks aren’t all that bad, conveniently leaving out they were fresh off the murder of around a million people.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. “An unmentionable lose. I was her English teacher.” I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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