As vanity projects go, Russell Crowe’s directing debut is decent enough, a mid-sized WWI epic about a father leaving his farm in Australia to search for the three sons he lost to the battle of Gallipoli. For reasons barely explained, explored or exploited, his talents as water diviner (a debatable art at best) prove vital in locating the boys (two dead, one missing), while just as much time is spent gaining a separate peace with old Turkish enemies from the war, and in bridging the emotional void between a wife Crowe has lost to war’s grief and to a possible new soul-mate. There’s a real story in here, but Crowe makes the beginner’s mistake of emphasizing everything equally, clobbering us over the head to make sure we don’t miss a point. Faults and all, it plays out reasonable well, before the third act stumbles into hero-worship self-parody as Crowe plays forensic sleuth as well as patriotic war avenger (with his old enemies!) before finding a cricket bat that allows him to take on Greek philistines like some latter-day David. Then, back for chemistry-free flirtation with chilly co-star Olga Kurylenko. Crowe has more success with the film’s handsome visual production and bromance with Yilmaz Erdogan, excellent as the defeated Turkish general trying to do the honorable thing.
DOUBLE-BILL: Keep up the search for missing WWI vets with unconventional flair in LA FRANCE/’07 or more conventionally on A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT/’04.