If any of Angelina Jolie's films was going to open her up to criticism, it's In the Land of Blood and Honey, her directorial debut, in which she pulled no punches, showing war, rape and inter-religious relationships. So how did the critics rate it? Jake Coyle, AP's film critic, gave it a lukewarm two stars out of four, calling her touch "heavy-handed" and "blatant" but crediting her with raising the issues at the heart of the film.
"Throughout the film, Jolie puts politics ahead of story and character, blatantly imposing a message — an altruist message, but a message nonetheless — on the film. And the result is a movie whose narrative feels like a fictionalised United Nations presentation," he writes.
Jolie, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn't really expand the movie beyond the lovers and it suffers as a result. There is Ajla's sister [Vanesa Glodjo], who lives underground, and Danijel's cruel father, Gen Nebojsa Vukojevich [Rade Serbedzija, in the film's best performance], who expresses the historical prejudices underlying the war.
"But Jolie deserves plenty of credit here. There are far worse things than using one's celebrity to bring attention to the dangers of pacifism in the face of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. With the exception of a handful of visual missteps [a shot of shadows dancing on the wall, long fades to black], the film is nicely shot and atmospheric. Instead of finding a way to dramatise international inaction or pursing answers that might help explain genocide, In the Land of Blood and Honey makes its case only in the illustration of extreme, intolerable violence. Yes, there is power in simply showing these acts, but they eventually have a ring of calculation."
The Los Angeles Times also touched on what reviewer Kenneth Turan called Jolie's "contrived plot points" before gently praising the actress' work.
"What Angelina Jolie has accomplished in In the Land of Blood and Honey is both impressive and unexpected. But because the task she set for herself is so difficult, it is not quite enough," said Turan.
"One of the most impressive things Jolie has accomplished is giving her film a palpable sense of authenticity, both in terms of acting and fidelity to events... Unfortunately, Blood and Honey has script problems: Its core story is less compelling than its overall atmosphere. The Ajla/Danijel relationship is not always convincing, key plot points can feel contrived and the preponderance of Bosnian Serb bad guys comes off as schematic. To compare this to, say, Lu Chuan's equally brutal City of Life and Death is to see how far this film needs to travel."
"Angelina Jolie deserves admiration for making In the Land of Blood and Honey as her first filmmaking project," wrote Roger Ebert. "Unlike so many movie stars who only turn up for the photo op. Jolie has courage and convictions... If I understand Jolie correctly, she believes the Christian Serbs have blood on their hands, having carried out genocidal massacres against Muslims. One of their pastimes is raping Muslim women. We see this in dismaying detail.
"I found In the Land of Blood and Honey to be moving and involving, but somehow reduced by its melodrama to a minor key. The scale of the ages-old evil and religious hatred in the region seemed to make the fates of these particular characters a matter of dramatic convenience. So what if Danijel shielded Ajla and his father found him out? It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."