During his interview about this film on CBS This Morning, Russell Crowe said an amazing thing: “War isn’t about courage and bravery. It’s about grief.”
This absolutely blew me away. He turned the glories of war on their head, and instead told the story of a man whose three sons went off to war and didn’t come back. He goes to find them. This quote frames the film beautifully, but the film gets a little lost with the details.
The film starts with the Battle of Gallipoli, which was a defining moment in World War I. The Turkish forces defeated Allied soldiers, with great casualties on both sides. Then goes to the main character, Connor, finding water out in the desert of Australia, using his powers (What I would affectionately call, “woo-woo-shit.”) Part of the scene is the mysticism, that this sort of thing shouldn’t work at all – then you see RC digging, digging, and he finds water.
He finds the skeletons of his sons in the same way later in the film. There is a considerable amount of violence in this film, which shows the run-up to World War II, in the Turkish region.
A few points: The cinematography of this film is breathtaking. Australia and Istanbul must be very beautiful indeed. The hotel where Connor stays in Istanbul has these amazing wallpapers, and intricate woodwork that is dark and rich.
One thing I’ve noticed about first-time directors is that their movies are a bit too long, often with too many endings or beginnings, and this is true here. The story starts on the battlefield, then goes to the woo-woo-shit, then to the wife… then to the journey to Gallipoli – so you are 15 minutes into the movie before you know what it is about. I think the story would have been less muddled if it began with the woo-woo-shit well finding, then on the journey to Turkey thinking of the wife in flashbacks, then the battle scenes in flashbacks when he actually gets to the scene of the battle… I don’t know. RC uses flashbacks too many times, trying to display the gore and horror of how the sons died. The flashbacks become distracting and they lose their affect, because they are overused.
I did like how the defeated Turkish soldiers became his allies and friends. This exchange between one of the Aussie soldiers in charge of digging up the graves, and the Turkish major who becomes his guide just about broke my heart:
I also liked the story of the love interest / single mom war widow – this subplot was shown deftly, without being too trite on the one hand or sappy on the other. I also liked how his character related to the son. It relays that the man was a dad – a daddy, someone who loved his children – and unfolds the layers of grief through common interactions.
Here’s the thing about war movies: they need an angle. Whether the angle is:
- War is amazing (Apocalypse Now / Braveheart),
- War is hell (Jarhead / Platoon / The Hurt Locker / Black Hawk Down),
- War is long and boring (The Thin Red Line / Saving Private Ryan)
- War can show us to be more than we thought we were (Glory / 300 / The Patriot)
- The aftermath of war is also hell (Rescue Dawn / In The Valley of Elah / The Water Diviner)
- War can help you meet interesting people: (The Four Feathers / The Water Diviner)
- The family left behind from war is fucked up (Brothers / The Deer Hunter / The Water Diviner)
- What These People Need is a Honky: (The Last Samurai / Avatar )
- Recovery from war can lead to romance (In Love and War / The Water Diviner)
But I digress. Can you tell I like movies about war? List your recommendations below!
So, there are a lot of “war themes” you can choose from. This film can’t decide which one it wants to be, so I put in a few of the categories I made up just there… I suppose the human story has many facets – but this story can’t decide which facet to focus on, which makes for a little bit of a muddled theme.
All in all, though, this is a film worth watching. I am interested in seeing where RC takes his next film.
So… I’ll fess up that I have a *minor* crush on Russell Crowe. I’ve watched his film career since he played a bruiser in L.A. Confidential, and I’ve not been disappointed.