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.