"The challenges of making a film about historical atrocity are notoriously knotty," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "The director must convey the full force of horrific action without lapsing into either prurience or numbing repetition, while the film needs not only depict these terrible acts, but provide some kind of larger understanding as to why they were perpetrated. While Angelina Jolie's Bosnian War-set In the Land of Blood and Honey can't claim to fulfill either of these conditions, it deserves credit for one thing: It refuses to soft pedal the horrors committed by Bosnian Serbs against their Muslim neighbors in the early-to-mid-90s."
Nick Schager, writing for Box Office, agrees: "If there's a redeeming quality to In the Land of Blood and Honey's treatment of its subject matter it's that, unlike weak-kneed films such as Hotel Rwanda, it refuses to shy away from the true, vile reality of the Bosnian war. 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. After the umpteenth graphic horror, however, the effect of Jolie's approach begins to not just wear thin, but resemble an affected pose, with the filmmaker seeming too intent on making sure viewers' noses are rubbed in the bloody muck. It doesn't help that, as a director, Jolie exhibits scant visual flair that might evocatively enhance her nastier incidents. Moreover, her blunt handling of violence extends to her dramatic scenes as well: largely devoid of an accompanying score, and often drawn out to the point of exhaustion. 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."
Manohla Dargis sets it up in the New York Times: "The movie opens in 1992 right before the fighting started and soon after Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), an artist and a Muslim, goes on a date with Danijel (Goran Kostic), a cop and a Bosnian Serb. Recently acquainted, the two meet up at a club, where they fall into each other's arms, dance and flirt, nestled in an exuberant, raucous humanity, a communion that abruptly ends when a bomb detonates inside the club. The old world falls away and in its place there is dust, blood and Ajla and Danijel staggering toward their newly divided worlds." The film, she finds, "moves briskly and easily holds your attention, largely through a perverse love story that doesn't suffer for being such an obvious metaphor for the larger battle raging beyond Ajla and Danijel's relationship."
"With her disastrously received 2003 message movie Beyond Borders and now In the Land of Blood and Honey, Jolie has succeeded in attracting international attention to international atrocities," offers Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "It's possible, if not particularly likely, that someday she will get around to dramatizing atrocities compellingly as well, though her colorless work here suggests she's a lot more likely to do that as an actress than as a filmmaker."
More from Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Steve Macfarlane (L), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and Drew Taylor (Playlist, B).
Background, interviews and profiles: Valerie Hopkins (Guardian), R Kurt Osenlund (Slant) and Steven Zeitchik (Los Angeles Times).
And this, from Janine di Giovanni in the Guardian: "As a journalist who lived through the siege of Sarajevo, I witnessed the ethnic cleansing, the burning of houses, the columns of refugees pouring from the country and, once, a dog running down the street with a human hand in its mouth. I went to see Blood and Honey with an especially critical eye. I was on the lookout for inauthentic details, since other films I've seen about Bosnia left me irritated and annoyed: why hadn't the director done more research? Why couldn't someone tell the true story of the brutal war in the heart of Europe at the end of the 20th century? I emerged from Jolie's screening impressed. How could a woman who was only 17 when the conflict erupted in April 1992 have so captured the horror of a war that focused largely on indiscriminate and brutal attacks on civilians?"