If only the American people were more attentive to international news (and American media more inclined to report it in depth), it would be easier to dismiss The Whistleblower for being clunky and obvious in imparting its ripped-from-the-headlines story. Things being what they are, The Whistleblower is a useful tool in drawing attention to an underreported problem that isn’t going anywhere: human trafficking. It also puts Rachel Weisz front and center, a fine actress given a crusading hero role. First-time feature director Larysa Kondracki gets across the broad strokes of the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac (Weisz), a Nebraska cop turned UN peacekeeper in turn-of-the-millennium Sarajevo.
A divorced mother of three, Bolkovac’s career move comes out of financial strain (the job pays better than she can earn at home) and at a price to her relationships with her daughters. But even over a long distance, those daughters add fuel to the fire of Bolkovac’s rage against the kidnapping, sexual and emotional abuse, and forced prostitution of young Bosnian women. Bolkovac discovers that her employer (a contracted international peacekeeping taskforce here called Democra Security) is well aware of the abuses, and that her colleagues patronize the abusers.
With the moral support of Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) of the UN’s Gender Affairs office, Bolkovac investigates the abuses and attempts to organize raids that do more than ineffectually go through the motions. Since “The Whistleblower” means to evoke the literally and figuratively shadowy paranoid thrillers of the ’70s (though it does so wanly), Bolkovac can’t be entirely sure who she can trust, especially amongst the men. These include her Dutch boyfriend Jan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and UN Internal Affairs officer Peter Ward (David Strathairn).
At its most skillful, The Whistleblower humanizes its horrors and stokes the viewer’s indignation through emotion as well as basic standards of social justice. Kondracki and co-scripter Eilis Kirwan wisely weave in the subplot of a representative victim, young Ukrainian teen Raya (Roxana Condurache). Established as chafing against her mother’s attempts to steer her right, Raya sets out on her own and falls prey to traffickers. Her fall is poignantly detailed, through to the point when she becomes a tentative witness for Kathryn.
Still, the story construction feels awfully by-the-numbers, the real-life details hyped for melodrama, and the dialogue curdled into inelegance (right from the start, when Bolkovac’s ex-husband says, “It’s not my fault that you’re married to that job of yours”). Condurache and Weisz’s “small corrections” make a big difference in steering the movie right, enough to make The Whistleblower a decent entry in the genre of political passion plays.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
Fox gives a vote of confidence to The Whistleblower with an excellent hi-def transfer that ably replicates the film's theatrical sight and sound. Wholly faithful to the filmmakers' intent, the image retains palpable grain and a rough-around-the-edges look that sometimes spells softness and often means crush in the shadows, but always afford the picture as much detail as the source provides. Color is accurate and at times arrestingly rich, and texture is discernable in the imagery as well as in the film stock. The Whistleblower is mostly talky, but the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound makes for a definitive presentation, and it comes to life nicely when Bolkovac is in the field: immersion and directional effects add significantly to the busily troubled setting. The sole extra is the too-short featurette "Kathy Bolkovac: The Real Whistleblower" (5:31, HD), which includes sound bites from Bolkovac, Rachel Weisz, co-writer/director Larysa Kondracki and co-writer Eilis Kirwan.
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