So, with all that out of the way, we can approach this as a piece of historical fiction, inaccurate warts and all. If anyone viewing this as an accurate historical account, evidently they think Braveheart and Pearl Harbor are documentaries, and lets movies write their history. Clearly, historical fiction and history are two very very different things and should be treated and viewed as such. I have no issue with a movie just being a movie that takes place during a historical point in time—there are plenty of films that do just that and tell us a compelling story framed by a significant historical event. I take issue when a film such as this tells us that it is based on true events, yet only fulfills that obligation in the most basic way possible. I think it is disingenuous.
Now to be fair, I don't think that Crowe set out to lie to the public about the battle of Gallipoli, or that he wants us to think that the what happens in The Water Diviner is abject fact; however, there is a reason why “based on true events” is something we are told at the beginning of the film. It's a cheap way to ad gravitas to the situation, and in this case I feel it to be unnecessary. The character arc doesn't need supposed reality to feel real and carry weight. A father losing all three of his sons to war, on the same day in the same battle doesn't need to be true to be effective. A footnote at the end would've sufficed.
Crowe directs himself as Mr. Connor, an Australian farmer and water diviner who sent his three boys off to war. All three boys were lost, and Mrs. Connor is never able to recover. She drowns herself, leaving Connor by himself. Connor is determined to find his boys and packs up his things and heads to Turkey. In Turkey he meets an attractive Turkish woman and her son who have also lost someone to the war. Connor finds his way to Gallipoli and befriends the Turkish officer who commanded the Turkish forces during the battle. The Turkish commander takes an interest in Connor and tries to help him find his missing sons.
The romantic subplot with the incredibly beautiful Turkish woman (Olga Kurylenko), with whom Russell Crowe immediately falls in love and whose son still thinks his father will come back from the war, follows throughout the entire film, which results in very basic storytelling and is all very flat and predictable.
Maybe I'm just a cynic, but The Water Diviner, to me, is just dramatic schlock trying to give itself importance by wearing a cloak of historical significance. Crowe's direction is muddy, heavy handed, and cliché, never really giving us anything to grab and hold. If it is trying to show the horror of the war and the campaign in Galliopli, it falls flat.
Just listen to Pogues cover of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and you'll get a better picture of how horrible that battle was, and how it affected the nation of Australia.