‘The Water Diviner’ is a war story that bogs down in tugging heartstrings

Russell Crowe has a heavy heart, onscreen and behind the camera.

Two and a half stars

The Water Diviner Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan. Directed by Russell Crowe. Rated R. Opens Friday.

For his directorial debut, Australian actor Russell Crowe takes on one of his homeland’s most famous national tragedies, the World War I Battle of Gallipoli, in which more than 10,000 soldiers from Australia and New Zealand were killed. Crowe plays the title character of The Water Diviner, Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey after the end of the war to retrieve the bodies of his three sons, all of whom apparently perished during the battle. The title refers to Joshua’s intuitive ability to find underground sources of water, and the movie portrays him using this ability to “divine” the location of his sons’ remains on the battlefield at Gallipoli.

The pseudo-mystical elements never quite connect with Crowe’s old-fashioned, melodramatic storytelling, especially the cheesy romance between Joshua and a widowed Turkish hotel owner (Olga Kurylenko). Crowe stages some intense battle sequences in flashbacks to the fighting at Gallipoli, but they make up only a small portion of the slow, episodic narrative. The script by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight hints at a few interesting ideas about the legacy of war via the relationship between Joshua and a Turkish military commander (Yilmaz Erdogan) who helps him in his search, but they’re never quite fleshed out.

Crowe seems more focused on heart-tugging than social commentary, and he slathers every emotional moment with a sappy, overbearing score. The movie ends with a dedication to all the soldiers whose bodies were never recovered after the war, but the story doesn’t carry the same historical weight.

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