You`re young, you`re drunk, you`re in bed,
you have knives; s**t happens…
When I get logical, and I don’t trust my instincts
– that’s when I get in trouble.
- Angelina Jolie
January 12, 2012
‘Blood and Honey’ directorial debut a ‘flop’
by Peter Brock
Reprinted with permission
The critics and movie-goers “doth protest too much.”
Make that a silent protest because apparently they have better things to do than say much of anything about Angelina Jolie’s inaugural attempt at writing/directing “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
The first month’s box office take will likely not even amount to a .01-percent trickle of the $13 million blown on this celluloid cliché that promoters had tried to hype as a Romeo and Juliet tragedy set against the recent Bosnian war. By late January, the three-week mini-run that soaked $90,000 in ticket sales from gullible movie-goers is sputtering.
Only a handful of Balkan war critics had been stirring themselves up at this latest revisionist bid by Hollywood to rile the conscience of the world—while making a few bucks for their trouble. They and diaspora Serbs had grudgingly read the pre-screening synopses which borrowed from two decades worth of lurid headlines about contrived tales of genocide, tens of thousands of fictitious rapes, hyped “concentration camps” and the like.
But after all the buildup, the long-awaited flick rolled in only seven New York and Los Angeles theaters, beginning two days before Christmas in “limited distribution” by FilmDistrict that, as a matter of fact, was quickly getting more limited by the minute. One theater in New York lost no time in yanking it off the marquee.
Worth mentioning is that it didn’t take a second sniff for “Serbian tycoon and media magnate Željko Mitrović” who was earlier asked if Jolie could use his sound stages and studio sets.
“‘I’ve held great affection and admiration for Angelina Jolie both as a person and as an artist, but unfortunately she’s full of prejudice against the Serbs. I do not wish to be part of something that for the umpteenth time presents the Serbs as eternal bad guys.’” It was about the nicest thing anyone would say of the whole project, start to finish.
Story goes that Jolie had originally received a near-epiphany over coffee with unnamed journalists in Budapest when she became inspired to direct the film. A decisive “séance” also occurred with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour whose own words, echoed later by Jolie, were tediously familiar as the former’s signature commentary in wartime “scoops” from Bosnian muslim presidents, prime ministers, United Nations’ goons, bloodthirsty NATO brass and U.S. State Department shills during the ‘90s:
“This was, you know, the worst genocide since World War II in Europe …What were we all doing? And did we do enough? And why do we not speak about this enough?” parrots Jolie.
Amanpour introduced Jolie and the film at its New York Premiere last December 5.
The glitzy premiere after-party was held on The Standard Hotel’s rooftop Hudson River overlook and was co-sponsored by the foreign policy think-tank Council on Foreign Relations of which Jolie, having studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, somehow earned membership. General Wesley Clark, who chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bosnian War and oversaw 78 straight days of indiscriminate bombing of Serb cities in 1999, also attended the fete and called the film “incredible.”
At first, reviewers grit their teeth while trying to be nice to Jolie—half of the Brad Pitt/Jolie cinematic power couple—in her La-La-Land netherworld romance between a Muslim painter and her fated Serbian lover and guard at one of those sinister “camps”:
“…where rape and brutality against women is business as usual by most Serbian soldiers… Jolie’s phony plotting and graphic depictions of sexual assault and murder are transparent attempts to bluntly convey the war’s atrocities. …Images of men mowed down on the streets, groups of innocents executed in front of mass graves and women raped in the company of their fellow captives all prove Jolie’s admirable commitment to directly addressing the Serbians’ heinous actions. …Her dialogue-heavy sequences are aesthetically inert, further muting the momentum of a tale that, in narrative terms, winds up being a series of clichés piled on top of general preposterousness. …(T)his wannabe-serious film comes off as not just unenlightening, but borderline-interminable.” – boxofficemagazine.com
But, it was as plain as the worrisome wrinkle above one of her eyebrows that Jolie’s film had “flopped and appears to be on its way out of theaters”, said thewrap.com after only two holiday weekends.
“…(N)ot even art-house audiences were clamoring for a subtitled drama about the Bosnian war over the Christmas holiday. …Featuring a cast of no-name performers and the brutal setting of the Bosnian war, the film is an almost impossible sell for audiences of any stripe”, said LATimes.com/entertainment bloggers.
Wrote The New York Times Manohla Dargis on the eve of the showing, touting Jolie’s gratuitous title as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:
“…(T)here’s a somewhat awkward instructional, at times almost proselytizing aspect to the story that seems of a piece with her laudable humanitarian work. That’s especially true in the scenes in which Ms. Jolie switches into full-on expository mode, putting dry, plodding words into the characters’ mouths that would work better in the kind of on-screen textual explanations, with their snippets of history and politics, that open and close the movie.”
That’s Dargis’ long definition of “propaganda.”
Reviewers wasted no time getting into step:
“Is it a bad sign when you want a movie to end almost as much as the war it’s about?” asked Sam Adams in the LA Times. 
“A mix of the powerful and the ridiculous, and eventually the ridiculous wins,” said Mick LaSalle nearly simultaneously in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Variety’s Justin Chang penned a pre-release review of the movie, branding it a “dramatically misguided attempt to renew public awareness of the 1992-95 Balkan conflict” that “springs less from artistic conviction than from an over-earnest humanitarian impulse … “(I)ts scenario tilting into tarted-up banality.”
Likewise, The Village Voice’s Karina Longworth characterized it as a coin-toss “between predictable tragedy and ludicrous redemption …a United Nations extra-credit project about the Bosnian War” and sniped at Jolie for “producing a sanctimonious vanity commercial for her own good intentions.”
Nathan Rabin of the A.V. Club panned it as “a film of shuddering earnestness and fevered good intentions gone awry, a dreary slog of a message movie with little but noble if unfulfilled aspirations to commend it.” He noted that “Serbian groups have justifiably complained about Jolie’s glib stereotyping of Serbs as racist heavies” and that she “once again succeeded in attracting international attention to international atrocities and it’s possible, if not particularly likely, that someday she will get around to dramatizing atrocities compellingly as well.”
Maybe even by both/all sides?
Intuiting yowls of protest from the star of “Catwoman”, her litter of “industry” cronies rushed to salve her ruffled fur in early December when the Producers Guild of America announced that the film would receive its 2012 Stanley Kramer Award, followed by more institutional feel-good and a nomination in the Best Foreign Language category for the 69th Golden Globe Awards.
Truth be told, Hollywood doesn’t do well with movies about “those” Balkan wars of the 1990’s. Some would like to think that fans got wise to all the political manipulations and simplistic propaganda by American media about Serbs wearing black hats and everyone else as chaste as Snow White in a burka. But Angie, who signed that pre-nup with Brad in 2007 worth $220 million, isn’t getting hurt.
A roll-call of some Balkan war films shows only one money-maker:
- “Behind Enemy Lines” with Gene Hackman from 2001, budgeted at $40 million, earnings worldwide of $92 million. But not a bonanza. (Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 129 critics, dubbed it “Rotten”)
- “Welcome to Sarajevo” in 1997 with Woody Harrelson, budgeted at $9 million, no earnings appear visible. No surprise.
- “Savior” and Dennis Quaid in 1998, $10 million budget. Ditto.
- “No Man’s Land,” in 2002, only worth mentioning because it got the Oscar for best foreign film. It cost $14 million; earned $5 million.
- “The Hunting Party”, in 2007 with Richard Gere spent $40 million and made less than a million in the U.S., but $7 million overseas. Kindest words were from New York Times’ Dargis, who called it a “huge disappointment …A misfired, misguided would-be satire.”
Surprisingly, Roger Ebert blinked in lieu of candor—and he probably had a free ticket. What, a quiz?:
“Although the United States and the United Nations had troops involved, I have a feeling that a good many Americans never worked up much interest in the Bosnian war. There were too many complexities for a soundbite. Was it Serbs against Croatians? Christians against Muslims? A free for all? Wasn’t it all once Yugoslavia? Which side were we on? Or did we simply want all of them to stop fighting?
“I hope I don’t sound snarky. The indifference of many moviegoers to world events affects the box office for any movie about such conflicts. It took a long struggle to get audiences worked up over, and even then, the key words were ‘bomb disposal’ and not ‘Iraq.’ Although we’ve spent a fortune in blood and resources in the Middle East, Hollywood has found audience indifference to events there. Even more so in the former Yugoslavia. When I mention Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, how many nations have I named? Are they in fact nations? Here’s a curveball: Where are the Balkans?…
Too touchy for ol’ Rog and all his politically-correct pals who sit together in the balconies?
But, among the biggest head-scratchers for “In the Land of Blood and Honey”? Why the obscure title? From an obscure poet? Or, more likely because Jolie had to hurry because bad pre-premiere publicity was going around that the film celebrated rape, and production had to be shortened before the “Mothers of Srebrenica” came stomping over the castle moat—with torches and pitchforks!
She told insidemovies.ew.com last May that coming up with the title was “driving me crazy. I have lists and lists of titles all over. She cited the subject matter of the film, which is set against the backdrop of the Bonsian Civil War in the 1990s, as the primary reason she was having such a hard time.
“‘It’s a heavy film,’ she added. ‘You want to find that title that really helps the audience know what they’re walking into.’”
Or, not walking into, as it turns out.
“…In making the announcement, Jolie said: ‘The film is specific to the Bosnian War, but it’s also universal. I wanted to tell a story of how human relationships and behavior are deeply affected by living inside a war.’”
Huh? Which “universe” does she live in?
 Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2012.
 San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 2012.
 Variety, December 16, 2011.
 The Village Voice, December 21, 2011.
 The A.V. Club, December 22, 2011.
 MSNBC. December 13, 2011.
 The Telegraph. December 15, 2011.
 Celebrity-Gossip.net, July 13, 2007
 January 4, 2012. n
- Review of In the Land of Blood and Honey, a movie by Angelina Jolie
- Gray Falcon: A Dreary Slog
- Gray Falcon: War Porn