CLINT Eastwood, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, George Clooney, Ben Affleck. All Hollywood actors who have managed to carve a successful career of moving to the other side of the camera.
Now Russell Crowe joins the club with his directorial debut The Water Diviner, in which he also stars in the lead role.
Set in 1919, Crowe plays Connor, a water diviner who, following the tragic suicide of his wife, carries out a promise to search the remains of their three sons, presumed killed at Gallipoli during World War One in 1915.
Setting off to Turkey, he faces obstacles from the British consul and the reluctance of officials to allow him to examine the site, but refusing to take no for an answer, he is eventually granted permission to do so. Finding the remains of only two of his sons, he becomes convinced that the third is alive, eventually teaming up with the now guilt-ridden Turkish soldiers that previously fought in the battle who agree to help find him.
In addition, he also becomes acquainted with the proprietors of a hotel he stays at, despite initial hostility from the manageress Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) whose husband died while fighting on the opposition.
Crowe is in new territory here and even though the film as a whole does not cover ground that would be seen as changing cinema, this is still a solid debut here.
The use of flashbacks of life comparing life of the boys young and in war is engaging to watch, including a tense sequence in which the sons are caught in a sandstorm resulting in Connor barely rescuing them in time. A different kind of intensity is all but apparent once the sons are shown in war and battling in the trenches. Knowing that father is not there to help them in the trenches, the contrast between the predicaments are all too clear and key vulnerability is visible.
Crowe uses the differing situations about unity very well and also manages to form together a crucial story within the trench sequence which works for telling more than just about the actual battling taking place. In just a couple of sequences, Crowe actually does more for telling the story of Gallipoli than Peter Weir did with his 1981 drama of the same name.
The emotional element is conveyed more so early in the film when Connor finds his wife has drowned herself in the lake outside their farmhouse. The following scenes when Connor unsuccessfully persuades an unsympathetic priest to give a modest burial and is forced to bury her himself also display Crowe’s talent for emotionally charged acting.
The film is not the most original though. The scenes in which Connor integrates with the owners of the hotel do fall into clichéd territory. From when Ayshe greets him, she tries to prevent his stay in the hotel in a possibly xenophobic notion, only to be overruled by the more diplomatic manager, also the brother of her dead husband. Unsurprisingly though, she eventually warms to his presence and befriends Connor, who also develops a friendship with her young son.
In spite of its unoriginality, the storyline of Connor becoming involved with those in the hotel makes for interested viewing, with a mixture of unexpected random humour and carefully handled domestic sequences helping the film succeed overall as a diverse human story.
The Water Diviner is not perfect but this is still an engaging and entertaining account of fallout from war that works as an impressive debut from Crowe, who would be welcome to direct another feature.