Lights, Jolie, action

In the Land of Blood and Honey is a respectable war movie — despite the superstar behind the camera

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Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and a Serb soldier (Ermin Sijamija) travel through Sarajevo in In the Land of Blood and Honey
PHOTO BY DEAN SEMLER
In the Land of Blood and Honey by Angelina Jolie

arts@sfbg.com

FILM The grudging, occasionally outright hostile tone some critics, culture vultures, and fan types have taken toward In the Land of Blood and Honey points toward a fundamental problem most of them have, though few admit it: the belief that Angelina Jolie is just too damn famous, too much a figure of public speculation and private fantasy, to be taken seriously — let alone to make a movie about rape and genocide during the War in the Balkans.

That bleak historical chapter occurred about the same time that Jolie was a Beverly Hills goth teen into knife play, too many recreational drugs, and her brother (eww), with a fledgling professional resume consisting of modeling gigs, music videos, and an inglorious starring role in 1993's Cyborg 2. Since then she has grown up a lot, and in ways that count (adopting children as well as bearing them, actually working at her "humanitarian causes" rather than using them as photo ops), is sort of a model world citizen as far as ginormous movie stars go. She also paired off with another such example, Brad Pitt — World's Sexiest Woman, meet World's Sexiest Man, cue celestial chorus — and while it may be a coincidence, shortly after that event he started consistently behaving onscreen like a real actor and less like an International Male model.

Jolie, too, can act, but since becoming a big star (circa 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), it's been disappointing how seldom she's been called upon to do so — as opposed to bringing the near-cartoonish va-voom and ass-whup in movies like 2003's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, 2005's Mr. & Mrs. Smith, 2008's Wanted, and 2010's Salt. Truth be told, when she has gotten a serious part in a serious film such as 2008's Changeling or 2007's A Mighty Heart, the stubborn glare of celebrity hobbles our ability to let her disappear into the role. It's not fair, but there ya go. Those are highly competent, versatile performances that nonetheless might be more effective if delivered by someone whose first name alone seems to call for an exclamation point.

This is all beside the point when it comes to In the Land of Blood and Honey, or ought to be. But the fact is, her narrative debut as writer and director (she's also credited with a little-seen 2007 documentary, A Place in Time) would probably be getting reviews in the respectable-to-rave range if created by anyone else. It's certainly gotten some of those, but you'd be hard-pressed not to glimpse a certain "Who does she think she is?" resentment behind others who see the film as heavy-handed do-gooderism from a chick who should leave cinematic commentary about profoundly tragic historical events to people who are less ... er, sexy.

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