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With his directorial debut, The Water Diviner, Russell Crowe seems determined to throw all the ingredients of his past starring roles into a single mix.
The story about a father traveling to Constantinople to retrieve the bodies of his sons after the Battle of Gallipoli has the R-rated combat violence of Gladiator, the improbable burgeoning friendship of Master and Commander, the improbable burgeoning romance of A Beautiful Mind, and the rousing family drama of Cinderella Man.
Well-shot and -acted as they are, each of these narratives represents the seeds of a good movie, yet none of them come to full flower, leaving the film a disjointed if visually arresting mess.
However, the script’s inability to flesh out any of its particular storylines isn’t nearly as troubling as the themes that begin to take shape around them. It has become so common a fixture in war films to portray so-called mercy killings as a heroic act, we rarely question their deeper morality. When this moment comes in Water Diviner, it’s even more troubling than usual as it’s the only scene included to win the audience’s sympathy for the man who does the killing. It’s thoughtless shorthand for “you should like this guy.”
Similarly, historical films so often portray Eastern religion as a repository of some secret, mythic wisdom, it’s hard to rouse the energy to complain anymore. Suffice it to say, once again the character representative of Christianity shows only selfish, shallow callousness while the character representative of Islam offers a well-spring of peace, rest, and reoriented perspective for the weary Western protagonist’s soul.