'In the Land of Blood and Honey' is superstar actress Angelina Jolie's directorial debut. Along with directing the film she also wrote it. With her constant exploits as a humanitarian around the world it's easy to see why she'd be drawn to the story of genocide that happened in Bosnia during the mid-90s.
Like so many war films before it, 'Blood and Honey' features travesty after travesty as a group of people are systematically eliminated by a bigger, tougher bunch of bad guys. The Serbian army moves into neighborhoods rounding up all the Muslims they can find. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is one of those Muslims who gets taken by the army to a work camp of sorts.
Before the war, Ajla lived an idyllic life. She lived comfortably in an apartment with her sister and her sister's child. Ajla is an accomplished artist. She even took to dating a Serbian man, Danijel (Goran Kostic). After tensions rise between the Muslims and the Serbians, lines are drawn. Danijel finds himself on the side of the Serbian army because his father is the army's main general. Ajla finds herself dragged off to a camp which is presided over by Danijel. Once he realizes she's there he tries to protect her without his actions seeming too suspicious.
'Blood and Honey' is full of heartbreaking scenes. People are callously executed, babies are thrown from balconies, Muslim women are repeatedly raped and beaten at hands of their cruel Serbian guards. At times it feels like you're watching 'Schindler's List' all over again, only this happened in modern times. It's hard to believe that something like this was happening in the 90s.
It's easy to tell that this movie is a passion project for Jolie. She wants to visualize as many atrocities as possible so we get a hint of what it was like during this time. Her screenplay actually tries to make the case for both sides, as the Serbians constantly blame Muslims for random bombings. Although, it's impossible to side with the Serbians, who come across as a group of thuggish mongrels, and rightly so.
Where the movie falters is when it tries too hard to incorporate the tepid love affair of Ajla and Danijel. Almost as if saying, "If these two end up together, it doesn't matter what happens. They found love." At times their love story feels as tacked on as the idiotic love story in Michael Bay's 'Pearl Harbor.' The weight of the atrocities committed by the Serbian armies, feels undercut as Ajla and Danijel battle with their "I love you. I love you, not," feelings.
Jolie cuts back and forth between the massacres and the love story, sometimes at a dizzying pace. The second act feels like a hodgepodge of rape, soldier dinners and escape attempts. Even though all this is going on it's hard to feel for anyone on screen (although I must admit my wife cried her eyes out during a rather heart wrenching scene involving a dead toddler, no doubt thinking about our own son at the time and what she would do in such a dire situation) because so much time is spent wondering if Ajla and Danijel will ever work out their "differences."
I don't mean to sound callous. What happened over there was a complete and utter travesty. It was something that many of us over here in the States didn't know the extent of for years. Jolie captures much of the devastation during this time period, but it doesn't have the same oomph as war movies that have gone before, mostly because the star-crossed lover's story eats up too much time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony's release of 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' comes complete with the movie pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc and also a DVD copy of the film. Both discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The case indicates a Region A only coding.
Sony is no stranger to magnificent video transfers. Having just reviewed the stellar 'A Dangerous Method' I was settling down with full expectations that 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' would be just as gorgeous. My expectations, I'm happy to say, were met.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, presented here is often times awe-inspiring it its attention to minutiae. Facial details are superb. There's a moment when the camera zooms in on Danijel's face as he lays next to Ajla in bed. Every facial line, lip crease, brow furrow, and pore is completely visible. Almost like he was there, sitting right in front of you.
The color palette is dominated by dreary grays, dingy whites, and earthy browns. What else would you expect to see from a war-torn area? Even through all the doom and gloom (which by the way is still presented flawlessly, no matter how gloomy everything looks) are bursts of color that usually come from Ajla's paintings. The multi-colored painting shown towards the end offers a contrasting view of bright, vivid colors against a rather dreary backdrop.
Shadows for the most part seemed well delineated. If I had one minor quibble with the whole affair it seemed that there were a few scenes that featured negligible crushing. I didn't notice a hint of banding, aliasing, blocking, or any other artifacts that might detract one's viewing. In short, this is another near demo-worth addition to Sony's long line of great looking Blu-ray releases.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix delivers just as much demo-worthy excitement as the video presentation. As you might have guessed, this being a war movie, explosions and gunshots take main stage. Here explosions feature thunderous LFE whenever they go off. The opening explosion from an unseen bomb really rumbles.
Directionality is crucial here. Gunshots whiz by on all sides as soldiers hunker down and fight oncoming rebels. At the beginning, a group of Muslim men are rounded up and marched off screen. All we hear is machine gun fire coming from the right front and right rear speakers; while in the center speaker the women huddle around each other crying. It's a perfect example of how well mixed this presentation is.
Dialogue is always intelligible even though much of the dialogue is whispered. Voices are hauntingly realistic. The mix does a good job centering the devastation right up front. It's hard to watch many of these women get raped by uncaring soldiers as their cries are heard clearly through the center channel without any soundtrack accompaniment. The mix adds to the rawness of the movie.
Part of 'Blood and Honey' is a starkly photographed, realistic version of genocidal war, and the other part is a simple, slightly cheesy melodrama between two people. Sadly, the latter outweighs the former in almost every aspect. The movie seems split as to whether it should simply showcase the plight of a certain group of people or showcase the forbidden romance of two unlikely lovers. Sony has provided excellent audio and video presentations, so there's nothing to worry about there. The special features are also very well constructed, with the extensive Q&A taking center stage. I can't really recommend people to go out and buy the film, simply because of the problems I had with the story as a whole. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't worth a look if this subject interests you.