Given his long and successful film career, Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe has had many chances to get behind the camera.
For his directorial debut, though, he ultimately settled on “The Water Diviner,” set in Australia and Turkey before, during after the bloody Gallipoli Campaign of 1915-16. It opens April 24.
"I had a direct, visceral connection to the story," Crowe said during an interview with the AJC. "I thought, this is a film I should direct."
Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Crowe very much related to the film's plot. He plays Joshua Connor, a farmer who travels to Turkey following the war to search for his three sons, who never made it home.
"You’re talking about a period of time where there’s no cell phones. Children go off to war and you’re not going to hear from them," he said. "Once you become a parent you view everything through the prism of being a parent."
Despite the sorrow and loss Connor endures he manages to retain his humanity, befriending a precocious young boy, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades) after he lands in Istanbul to begin his search. Orhan's mother Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) shows Connor kindness even amid the Turks' understandable post-war animosity toward Australians.
The friendship Connor is able to forge with Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdoğan) speaks to the reconciliation of the former warring factions years after Australian and New Zealand forces' retreat from the peninsula following the deaths of tens of thousands on both sides.
"In any conflict there’s going to be bravery and compassion and grief on both sides," Crowe said. "It very definitely gives you a perspective."
"The Water Diviner" is unsparing in depicting the gruesome truths of Gallipoli, a strategic campaign launched early in World War I that backfired.
Allied troops sat bogged down in trench warfare on the Western Front in 1915, so British forces hatched a plan to change the game by knocking the Germans’ weaker ally, the Ottoman Turks, out of the war. If successful, the move would have strengthened Britain’s Russians allies, and could have turned the tide against Germany.
Australia and New Zealand, self-governing members of the British Empire, fought with the mother country during World War I and when these troops - many of them farmers fighting for distant king and country - landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, they were met by well-entrenched enemies, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Thousands of these “Anzacs” were cut down by machine gun fire and after months the campaign was abandoned. The failure cost several British leaders, including future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, their jobs.
The Anzac soldiers fought valiantly in this lost cause. "Anzac Day" became a holiday in Australia and the experience helped forge a sense of national identity for the soon-to-be independent nation.
"The Water Diviner" depicts the challenge after the war by both sides after the war to identify remains of the fallen and speaks to the crushing defeat.
"It’s the first time those two countries fought under their own flags," Crowe noted.
"I have no idea what that movie’s going to be like," he said of the film, also starring Ryan Gosling. "It’s either going to be something people find affection for or it’s going to be me and Ryan driving our careers into a freight train!"