Russell Crowe’s a man on a post-war mission...
With shrewd timing, Russell Crowe’s feature-directing debut is released for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, the ill-advised WW1 attempt by Britain and its allies to invade Turkey via the Dardanelles that ended with over 110,000 dead on all sides and a humiliating Allied retreat.
Although way more British troops than ANZACs fought and died there (and way more Turks than either), Gallipoli has always held special significance down under – see Peter Weir’s 1981 film of that title. There’s a lasting belief that antipodean troops were sacrificed to the incompetence of British leadership, and ANZAC Day is still celebrated in Australia and NZ on 25 April (the anniversary of the first landing).
All this remembered passion feeds into Crowe’s film, more concerned as it is with the aftermath than with the battle – though we do get some impressively staged battle sequences by way of flashbacks. Four years after the conflict, a father whose three sons fell in the fighting fulfils a promise to his dead wife that he’ll travel to Turkey and find them. Crowe as Connor, the father (and dowser of the title), exudes a potent mix of doggedness and grief, though acting honours are taken by Yilmaz Erdogan (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia) as the Turkish officer who, burying past enmities, helps Connor in his quest.
Andrew Lesnie’s widescreen photography gives a sweeping sense of the alien landscape and culture Connor finds himself plunged into (even if the majority of the ‘Turkish’ scenes were shot in Australia) and for a first-time director, Crowe acquits himself admirably. The film’s only let down by its too-frequent recourse to narrative cliché.
Connor’s relationship with the lovely widowed owner of his Istanbul hotel (Ukrainian-born Olga Kurylenko making a valiant stab at Turkishness) and her cute son is pure Mills & Boon, and the latter half of the film lurches into sub-Indiana Jones territory. Nationalities are colour-coded: Aussies are brash and straightforward, Turks fierce but honourable, Brits pompous, Greeks brutal.
Against this, though, Crowe keeps his story churning vigorously. Early scenes in outback Victoria, as Connor hunts out hidden water, convey a gritty exhilaration, and the conflict flashbacks give us the Turkish as well as the Allied angle – indeed, the first battle scene we’re shown presents events purely from the Turks’ standpoint. If this isn’t quite the Aussie national epic it aims for, it’s a bonzer shot at it.