Some celebrity humanitarians spend their off-time trotting the globe, helping the downtrodden and oppressed, speaking out about horrors a gossip-hungry populace wouldn’t ordinarily give the time of day. Angelina Jolie does one better: She does all that on top of directing movies about atrocities a superhero movie-hungry populace wouldn’t ordinarily see. Not a ton of people flocked to her first stint as an auteur, 2011’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the Bosnian War. But they’ll have little excuse to skip the even more grimly-titled “First They Killed My Father,” about the Khmer Rouge. After all, it will be bowing on Netflix.
This sure-to-be-grueling war saga is a bit of a gearshift after “By the Sea,” her last directorial work — a Euro-fetish hang about a couple who are on the verge of breaking up (played, as it were, by Jolie and Brad Pitt, and filmed on their honeymoon). Adapted from the memoir by survivor Loung Ung, it follows a young girl as her hometown of Phnom Penh is taken over by the Khmer Rouge, under the sway of genocidal maniac Pol Pot.
As in “In the Land of Blood and Honey” — and much of her smash hit World War II drama “Unbroken” — it looks like Jolie won’t hold back on the terror. There are shots of guns being cocked, people being beaten, masses being shepherded to gruesome ends like cattle. And then there’s our young protagonist, suffering through it all. “Her eyes never forget,” reads one of the intertitles, indicating that Jolie is not someone who thinks there’s something problematic about ODing on the pain of others.
Also as usual with her non-“By the Sea” films (and we very much like “By the Sea,” suck it, haters), Jolie is nowhere to be seen. Her Cambodian characters are played by Cambodian actors, which should be a no-brainer at this point, yet we’re still dealing with white-washing. So kudos for that, on top of getting the kids to learn about Pol Pot.
Jolie’s latest bows on Netflix on Sept. 15. Watch the trailer below: