Just a glance at his filmography -- "Gladiator," "Master and Commander," "Noah" -- tells you that Russell Crowe knows about starring in sweeping historical epics, so it's a little frustrating that he seems to have learned nothing from Scott, Weir, Aronofsky, et al., about how to direct them. Crowe stars in his disappointing feature-filmmaking debut, "The Water Diviner," as Joshua Connor, an Australian man who travels to Turkey to hunt for his three soldier sons, presumed dead four years earlier in the devastating campaign at Gallipoli in 1915. And before the end credits roll, Connor will work his way through a checklist of cinematic tropes: Befriending a resourceful little boy, meeting a hot widowed mom, clashing with snobby British military men, and aligning with the former enemy. That's not even counting Connor's ability to magically deduce where his sons fell in battle, which isn't so much cliché as it is totally dumb.
Honestly, this hurts me more than it does Russell Crowe; he's one of the best, but unfortunately he threw down here with a newbie director who hasn't met a pregnant pause, telling glance, or laughable slow-motion shot that he doesn't like. Shot on location in Australia and Turkey, "The Water Diviner" at least looks decent -- it is the final film of the late, great cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who also shot Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogies. The acting's not completely atrocious, the standouts being Jai Courtney (he'll be Captain Boomerang in next year's "Suicide Squad") as the levelheaded ANZAC Lieutenant Colonel Hughes and Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdoğan as the honorable Major Hasan. And Crowe himself is fine, as always, but as the movie drags on, coincidences multiply, Caucasian men rescue exotic women, and complicated history gets whitewashed.