Russell Crowe directed and stars in “The Water Diviner,” which is ostensibly a labor of love for him, inspired by a true story. In his first venture into directing, Crowe has turned in excellent work.

The backdrop of the story is a period of history and of geography with which most people in the U.S. are unfamiliar. However, the story of the Battle of Gallipoli between the Ottoman Empire and the West carries great import in Australian history. The action moves from Southern Australia to Turkey in 1915, a time when a journey between the two locations could take three months. Note that Australians are historically great wanderers, as their country is so distant from other areas of Western culture.

It is instrumental to the story and to that part of world history that Australia — as perceived by the Ottomans — was simply representative of the British Empire. This film is significant in that it shows the severe losses of the Turks in the battle and tells their stories as well. In one poignant scene a Turkish major sends his young assistant away to search for his binoculars just before a skirmish is about to take place. The boy looks confused at the strange order; however, when he returns he finds that the foxhole he had been standing in has been bombarded and many of the soldiers are dead.

The story carries this movie. The writing by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios brings the period to life. We become invested in the characters early on. The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie (“Lord of the Rings”) produces landscapes, at once beautiful and harsh, of Australia and Turkey. The details of the horrors of war are not spared (once again, in war, no one really wins). The score by David Hirschfelder is simple and sets the tone for the story. The editing by Matt Villa is masterful. Even when the story jumps around a bit, the movement from scene to scene is smooth.

Russell Crowe turns in a solid performance as the grieving father at the heart of the story. Olga Kurylenko, as his love interest, the Turkish woman who is trying to break free from the repressive social framework of her culture, does a great job; however, in my opinion, she is cast for glamor rather than realism. It would have been more appropriate to cast a Turkish or Middle Eastern actress in the role. Young Dylan Georgiades shines as her inquisitive son. Ryan Corr as Art skillfully portrays a man haunted by images of tragedy. The actors whose performances truly stand out are Yilmaz Erdogan as the Turkish architect-turned-major and Cem Yilmaz as his soldier Cemal.

“The Water Diviner” is a colorful history lesson whose players truly come to life. The Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I and its social and cultural ramifications are sharply pertinent to the huge cultural rifts that exist in today’s world. Definitely worth seeing.

Rated R. 111 minutes.

Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at kwboole@gmail.com.

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