The Whistleblower Reviews
The war in Bosnia has been the focus of what seems to me a surprisingly large number of good films, from the farce of No Man’s Land to the drama of Welcome to Sarajevo. However, rather than the war itself, The Whistleblower concentrates on a repugnant coda to it – the international trafficking of child sex slaves for abuse, by a clientele of of mainly international peacekeepers and contractors, with their complicity and in some cases even direct participation.
Rachel Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac, the whistleblower of the title, an American police officer facing intertwined personal and professional challenges and sees working for “Democra Corp” (a pseudonym for the real-life Dyncorp military contractors) in Bosnia as a potential way out. Knowing little about Bosnia or peacekeeping, Bolkovic soon discovers the lawlessness that pervades the post-conflict Bosnia. The conflict between her moral outrage, the evil of the apparatus of trafficking, and the ugly realpolitik that enables it, forms the basis for the film’s plot.
The film is at its often agonizing best when it is focused on the story of Bolkovic and the teenage sex slaves she attempts to help. Weisz is convincing and the direction of co-writer Larysa Kondracki pulls comparatively few punches. When it moves into the realm of the diplomatic/corporate politics that protected the slaves’ UN enablers, it is perhaps less so. A story that, in real life, evolved over more than a year, seems compressed into weeks, and senior UN officials and the Democra boss are portrayed as cartoon besuited villains.
For all that, the film shines a very bright light on the twilight zone of impunity that surrounds the operations of private military contractors, and the repugnant consequences. If not surprising, it’s certainly still has the power to shock in the right hands, and the story is well told here.
The Whistleblower opens on September 29, but there’s a preview in Melbourne at the Kino Cinema tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon at 4:15. Full disclosure: yes, I got a free ticket from Hopscotch Films.
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The Whistleblower springs to mind a plethora of Seventies-era ripped-from-the-headlines dramas. Unfortunately it never rises to the level of All the President’s Men, but it offers up a performance from Rachel Weisz that is bruised, subtle, and full of naked rage.
Weisz’s performance is allowed one tragic scene in which to express white-hot rage, in a screaming cry against the corruptive powers that have enclosed around her and the lambs-to-the-slaughter girls trapped in the human trafficking living nightmare. Her tears of rage and pain are indelibly effective, but the movie that surrounds them is hopelessly bleak and unfocused. She starts the film as a stubborn single-minded officer trying to enact change and turns into something of an obsessive trying to perform a divine mission. There seems to be little thought about the possibility that she could lose her life, her job, or inadvertently get these girls killed.
The effort to humanize these poor girls, dismissed as “whores of war” by the group-think riddled male UN officers, is commendable, but it never fully materializes. What does is an obvious deficiency by first-time director who tries to juggle more characters and storylines then they are capable of effectively doing so. Vanessa Redgrave and Monica Bellucci are essentially glorified cameos, standing in as a wise, sage-like advisor and a by-the-books bureaucratic road-block respectively. And the men in the movie all blur into one large leering, threatening hive.
The Whistleblower works best if you think about it as a taunt, tense-thriller. It never quite shakes the feeling that it is editorializing, sermonizing, possibly even dipping into sensationalizing the truth by blunting some edges and removing some of the sting of the truth. (All of these girls appear to be near or over 18, which isn’t the truth. Depressing, gut-churning, repellent – but true.) In the end the only two things that truly stand out are Weisz’s masterful performance, and the conclusion that the ethical and moral wasteland leftover from war creates and sustains an atmosphere in which sex slavery and corruption are built in and self-sustaining.
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