“The Water Diviner,” Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, is a sloggy, heartfelt piece of quasi-magical realist storytelling. Crowe plays Australian farmer Joshua Connor, who can “divine” the presence of water from beneath parched soil. His three sons, as we see in flashback, have been been missing and are presumed dead in the infamous failed offensive four years earlier on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1915. The loss drives Joshua’s wife to ruination. He vows at her gravesite to journey to the battlefield and locate their bones for consecration.
It would have been enough if Crowe and his screenwriters, Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios, had simply dramatized the doggedness of a despairing father as he attempts to “divine” his sons' remains. But there is also a woozy subplot involving Joshua and a preposterously beautiful Constantinople widow (Olga Kurylenko). Romance is not exactly Crowe’s strong suit as an actor. His looks of longing are often indistinguishable from his stolid glares. Directing himself only compounds the problem. Grade: C+ (Rated R for war violence, including some disturbing images.)