“The Water Diviner”
Russell Crowe directs and stars in “The Water Diviner,” a movie bearing a lot of similarity to this year’s “Woman in Gold.” While both films have powerful moments centering around two accomplished actors, they are laced with distractions that make them good but not great.
“Woman in Gold” was at its best when Austria was invaded in 1938 by Nazi Germany. In “The Water Diviner,” the film produces a tremendous impact when it focuses on the catastrophic World War I battle in Gallipoli where tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed, including the three Australian sons of Crowe’s character, Connor. When his wife commits suicide because she couldn’t live with the pain, he decides to travel to Turkey in 1919 to find the bodies of his sons and return them to his home country to be buried next to their mother.
As Connor fights British and Turkish authorities to obtain access to the Gallipoli battlefield, the night resulting in his sons’ deaths is replayed in heartbreaking fashion. They are not only gunned down by machine gun fire, but one of the lads has to decide whether to kill his brother to put him out of his misery. The war may have ended close to 100 years ago, but it is quite obvious why the film was dedicated to the thousands who died without their bodies ever being recovered.
As Connor’s agonizing journey continues, he is shocked to learn that one of his sons was taken prisoner on that fateful night. While he tries to find out if he is still alive, the movie focuses on both his relationship with a young widow (Olga Kurylenko) running a small hotel in Istanbul and a Turkish veteran of Gallipoli (Yilmaz Erdogan) who attempts to lend a helping hand. Though both hold their own opposite Crowe, it is here that the film loses a bit of focus that drains the emotional impact of the entire movie.
As I watched this film, I was reminded of a trip through Europe I took with three friends over 10 years ago where we spent eight days visiting various battlefields. Quite frankly, it is hard to condemn the battles going on in the Middle East today when we are reminded of the millions of young European boys who were shot and gassed to death during this wretched war.
If you doubt that, go visit Verdun in France which contains a museum where separate rooms contain skulls, arms and legs recovered from the surrounding battlefield that could never be identified. Furthermore, visit the numerous cemeteries maintained throughout France where each is lined with crosses that read, “Here lies an unknown soldier.”
“The Water Diviner” tells a small story of an Australian family destroyed in a World War having no purpose. It has meaning today, as we simply can’t pretend to condemn the actions of others in a world that seems to have gone mad if we choose to forget that the Western world previously lost its mind. After all, it was only after that conflict ended that Western powers redrew the boundaries of the Middle East that are still causing immense problems at this moment in time.
Is it possible that a man could play God by replicating the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden? Since we are told that God created woman from Adam’s rib, what would result if man could create a modern-day Eve in the form of a robot who could think and function as a human being?
Writer/director Alex Garland confronts that story in the intriguing “Ex Machina.” Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, a reclusive Silicon Valley billionaire living in a gigantic estate somewhere in Alaska. A programmer in Nathan’s company, Caleb Smith (a sterling performance by Domhnall Gleeson), wins a contest where he thinks he will spend a week to provide assistance to his boss. Instead, Caleb learns on his arrival that he has been chosen to be a participant in evaluating the human consciousness in Nathan’s hidden attempt to create artificial intelligence.
Caleb quickly meets his assignment, Ava, a beautiful woman who is part robot. Caleb’s assignment is to spend one week with Ava as a part of a process known as the Turing Test, named after Alan Turing, whose tragic history was recently seen in the splendid “Imitation Game.” Without giving anything away, imagine that Eve got bored with her tedious life in paradise and decided that it would be far easier to eat Satan’s apple, dispose of a chauvinistic Adam, and move on to find friends in a better world.
Isaac, unrecognizable with a shaved head and a large beard, plays a genius who works hard by day and drinks himself into oblivion every evening. He’s not particularly likeable, but his performance is far better than found in either “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) or last year’s “A Most Violent Year.”
This movie centers on Alicia Vikander’s role as Ava, and you can’t take your eyes off of her. Part victim and part schemer, she tolerates a creator whom she despises. While Caleb wants to help Ava’s attempt to flee an environment where she is constantly kept behind glass walls, his sexual attraction to Ava becomes a deadly weakness.
From strictly a male standpoint, you gradually accompany Caleb on an emotional journey filled with uncertainty. Yes, Ava is a robot, but she is also a beautiful “woman” in need, and what man could say no? After all, apples are good for you, aren’t they?
There are marvelous moments throughout this film, not the least of which is Nathan’s dance sequence with another female robot. You gradually are left wondering if he is dedicated to perfecting the development of artificial intelligence or simply trying to find a way to run his own house of prostitution.
This movie will intrigue you, and I can assure you that you are not likely to forget it.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.