2011, R, 112 min. Directed by Larysa Kondracki. Starring Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Nikolas Lie Kaas, Vanessa Redgrave, Roxana Condurache, Monica Bellucci, Rayisa Kondracki, Anna Anissimova.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 19, 2011
The international crime of human sex trafficking is the subject of this melodramatic and often harrowing drama. Despite the fact that this issue is the spark that drives the story, the filmmakers have taken considerable care to create a full-bodied drama instead of a talking-points narrative. It helps to have Rachel Weisz as protagonist Kathy Bolkovac; her subtlety and dramatic efficiency pervade the film, appearing as she does in the majority of the scenes. Prefaced by a statement that tells us the story is “inspired by actual events,” The Whistleblower also concludes with several onscreen facts about the upswing in human trafficking during recent years. Bolkovac is a dedicated Nebraska police officer, who, as the film begins, signs a one-year contract to serve as a U.N. peacekeeper in postwar Bosnia. The salary will allow her to relocate closer to her daughter, who has moved out of state with her father – the girl’s legal custodian. (The film and its character development might have benefited from the provision of information about why sole custody had been granted to the father in this 1999-set film.) Once in Bosnia, Bolkovac proves to be a model of police virtue by offering assistance in the first successful prosecution of domestic violence in that country in decades. That deed brings her to the attention of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Madeleine Rees (Redgrave), who appoints her to head the U.N.’s Gender Affairs bureau. In that position, Bolkovac gradually becomes aware of the trafficking problem, and worse, the barely covert participation of her international police-force colleagues and high-level diplomats. Due to her dogged investigative work, a single case of criminality unravels a scandalous skein of unconscionable villainy – most of which can’t be prosecuted because of diplomatic immunity, internecine conflicts, and red tape. Although Bolkovac might be accused of naivete, the film’s inclusion of disturbing scenes of torture (one scene in particular) shows questionable judgment. And while the omnipresent use of bureaucratic acronyms and the swirl of languages and accents may be true to life in the Balkans, it works against the viewer’s ready comprehension of unfolding events and nuances. The greenish-gray tint that colors all cinematographer Kieran McGuigan’s shots also contributes to The Whistleblower’s overall lack of clarity. Fortunately, Weisz’s Bolkovac lends the film a compelling presence and narrative through line that sustains the audience during the film’s rockiest moments.