There have been hundreds of films about WWI, and many that focused on the battles on Gallipoli. This newest takes a view from a distance and concentrates on the personal fallout for the families and, more unusually, the ongoing political struggle in Turkey rather than approaching the events as “the present.”
Crowe (Winter’s Tale) takes on several hats for this film. As an actor he turns in a fairly solid performance as a father trying to find his children and rebuild his life.
From the other side of the conflict, Kurylenko (November Man) provides some additional complications, though with a shifting accent and some oddly abrupt emotional shifts. Still, their interchanges are nicely managed to get the response Crowe wants to provoke from his audience.
In addition, the lesser-known Erdogan allows for a perspective that is disturbingly balanced for anyone who wants history to be simple. It is this aspect of the story that is probably its most unique in an English-language film.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was Courtney (Terminator Genisys), who actually showed he could act in this film. It isn’t a main role, but it wasn’t inconsequential and he was practically unrecognizable. Perhaps the key to Courtney’s career is to stop trying to be the handsome male lead (assuming you even find him so)? I’ve always thought he had potential as an actor, but Crowe is the first director to pull it out of him.
Crowe, as a director, has shown quite a bit of capability and talent out of the gate. Taking on huge battle scenes and multiple locations and all the challenges an historical can bring to the table in costumes and props. He’ll get other opportunities based on the results here, despite the lack of box office magic, but that was more the subject than the result.
The story itself is, simply put, a bit odd, unavoidably crossing the border into the fantastical. I’ve not read the book, but those aspects that provide the title don’t quite work entirely in this adaptation. I like that it isn’t dwelled on, but as the title I’d have expected more focus and discussion of the basis or experience instead of glossing over it all. Outside of some of the pat and obvious moments, it is the weakest aspect of the film.
It is rare to see such a huge film from a first-time director, and to have the results be so well crafted. I sat down for this more than a little skeptical and resistant. I wasn’t in the mood for a war film, but it won me over and delivered because it does have an interesting view from which to tell the tale.