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Movie review: Crowe’s old fashioned “Water Diviner” aims to heal an old war wound

The century-old open wound of Gallipoli, Australia’s ill-fated entry into World War I, makes a vivid and grim backdrop for Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner,” a sensitive and sentimental story about a grieving father looking for the bodies of the three sons he lost there.

Joshua Connor (Crowe) works his Australian ranch alone, using his intuition and divining rods to hunt for water. His wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) stays busy polishing their sons’ shoes, reminding him to read to the kids from their favorite book at bedtime.

But he reads to three empty beds. The boys went off on adventure four years before, and like thousands of their countrymen, didn’t come home from the Turkish peninsula that Winston Churchill sent them to invade. When Connor’s mad wife dies, he resolves to go fetch those sons and bury them beside her.

In Turkey, he runs into the prickly efficiency of British Army bureaucracy and Turkish resentment and disorder.

Connor finds an unlikely ally in the stern Turkish Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a proud man who doesn’t like the nickname “Hassan the Assassin” the Aussies gave him. And thanks to an over-helpful child ( Dylan Georgiades), Connor finds a nice hotel. That’s where he meets the boy’s beautiful, widowed and hostile mother (Olga Kurylenko).

Crowe directed this with an ear and eye for the sentimental, matching his performance. Connor is noble, quiet but determined in his grief. Connor, guilt-stricken because he didn’t stop his boys from going, closes his eyes and can see the horror of how his boys died. The movies make such deaths neat and final. Not Crowe. We are not spared the moans and screams of those bleeding out on the battlefield.

The film’s forgive-and-move-on message goes a bit overboard. Still, the performances are moving and get the job done, and Kurylenko wins us over by the way she slowly lets Connor, her enemy, win her sympathy. “I measure a man by how much he loves his children,” she tells him, “not by what the world has done to them.”

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