Take a Drink: whenever a Serb is a beast
Take a Drink: for roommate liaisons
Take a Drink: for exposition-heavy radio broadcasts
Take a Drink: when the father/officer gives a monologue
Do a Shot: for bombings
By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
This year’s Oscar race is a lot more unsettled than in years past, but if you can call any film a season-long frontrunner, it would be Unbroken. Written by the Coen Brothers, shot by the legendary Roger Deakins, and starring a cross-section of fast-rising Hollywood talents (Jack O’Connell!) in an inspirational sports/WWII/survival/prison camp drama, on paper it boasts an almost ludicrous cocktail of everything Oscar likes. There is only one question mark, the director.
Hey, if Ben Affleck can do it…
Since a lot of Oscar commentators are already anointing her as a Best Director nominee at least, I figured now was the time to check out her fairly under the radar directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey. Set during the 92-95 Bosnian War, the film is centered on the illicit romance between a Muslim Bosniak, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and a Serbian soldier/her captor Danijel (Goran Kostic).
This movie sprang up out of Jolie’s experiences as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She originally wrote the script for another director to handle, but eventually decided to take over the reins herself, and there’s no doubt that it’s a passion project for her. She clearly feels deeply about the myriad atrocities perpetrated during this conflict, particularly the “ethnic cleansing” by the Serbs which amounted to the largest-scale war crime in Europe since the Holocaust.
You would be on board with that, wouldn’t you, you sick fuck.
At its best, this film communicates that passion and indicts the international institutions that stood by as it happened, as is too often the case. This in many ways is a spiritual cousin to devastatingly matter of fact Holocaust films like The Pianist, with an additional element of fury that something like this could even be possible in a post-Holocaust world. Jolie does a solid job in the director’s chair, particularly showing an adept hand with the action scenes, and does pull things together for a shocking and effective finale.
This film is indelibly political, and distinctly one-sided. According to Jolie herself, “The war was not balanced. I can’t understand people who are looking for a balance that did not exist. There are some people who don’t want to be reminded of these things, some even who deny that these things even happened. Those people are going to be angry.” Predictably, pretty much every Serb was, and Jolie’s painting of every Serb character as a monster (even Danijel, eventually) eliminates any nuance the film might have had (and as a romance, practically demands).
Like if anybody’d taken this line seriously.
I called The Pianist “A Series of Utterly Unfortunate Events”, and this film qualifies as such even more so. As a document of atrocities (many drawn from real experiences) it’s quite effective, but dramatically it’s completely inert. Just like The Pianist, the direction keeps the audience at arm’s length from the characters, so while we pity their circumstances, it’s impossible to identify with them.
This is compounded by the romantic angle. It is impossible to parse why Ajla is attracted to this brute, and the film doesn’t have the subtlety to convey other interpretations for her actions for the majority of the film. Couching this as a romance at all just seems wrong-headed.
Given the choice between Serbian war criminal and bloodthirsty undead creature, I guess I’m Team Edward after all.
There is no good reason this should drone on for 2 hours and 7 minutes, and the glacial pacing needed to stretch it that far is a crucible for patience.
This is an earnest and competent effort from Angelina Jolie that certainly shows promise, but has enough story and pacing problems to indicate she has a long way to go to fulfill those Oscar aspirations.