Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quick Look: IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY

Some people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction against actors who decide they’d like to try their hand at directing. That’s too bad. You never know which actor will end up being the next Clint Eastwood or Charles Laughton (Night of the Hunter, an all-time classic) or Gene Kelly (co-director of his Singin’ in the Rain), just to name a few. So when mega-celebrity Angelina Jolie decides she wants to write and direct a movie, I say, “why not?” When she decides to make a film about the Bosnian War of the early-90s and make that film a resolutely uncommercial one starring no marquee names, that’s a little over two hours long, with mostly Bosnian dialogue, even better. It’s just too bad her commercial daring couldn’t have made In the Land of Blood and Honey a better film. It’s a war movie laced with poisoned romance and rarely blinking brutality. Oh, sure, it’s quite well made on a technical level. The two leads – Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic – do good work and are capable of fascinating chemistry together. The grim, grey look of the film from cinematographer Dean Semler is polished and textured. But it’s all so Very Important, a seems-longer-than-it-is slog in which the good intentions and the weak melodrama drag each other down. It’s a punishing film with only the faintest flashes of interest, a message movie so heavy-handed and long-winded I felt beaten down by well-meaning bleakness. By the time pre-credit title cards spell out some facts of the tragedy that was the Bosnian War, I found myself angry. A compelling film could be made out of this material and Angelina Jolie clearly has the righteous indignation needed to power and shape a devastating character study that could actually make me feel through the film’s story and style the sadness and frustration of these facts. It just didn’t happen here, leaving it a big, empty, trudge through tough material. If she keeps trying, Jolie may yet become the next great actor-turned-director. Based on the evidence of this film, she’s most definitely not there yet.

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