Mark Reviews Movies

The Whistleblower


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Roxana Condurache, Paula Schramm, Alexandru Potocean, William Hope, Rayisa Kondracki, Jeanette Hain, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Hewlett, Coca Bloos

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 8/5/11 (limited); 8/12/11 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 11, 2011

Well-intentioned but outraged in only a general sort of way, The Whistleblower tells the story of how the United Nations, the United States State Department, and a private military company (The name of the real-life counterpart has been changed in this telling) worked in tandem with different motivations (survival, to avoid blowback, and to maintain a profitable contract) in an attempt to hush up a sex trafficking scandal in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the years after the Bosnian War. Director Larysa Kondracki and co-writer Eilis Kirwan fashion the screenplay as one woman's hunt for the truth and pursuit of justice, and it's unfortunate the movie loses that personal, microcosmic perspective to go after bigger targets.

The Whistleblower unintentionally raises an old question. Which is worse: the misdeed or the cover-up? When the crime is as horrifically dehumanizing and widespread as the one covered here, it's a dilemma to decide, but our instinct—and it's the initial and correct impulse of Kondracki and Kirwan—is to look for the source, confront it head-on, and then move up the ladder. The movie is perhaps too quick to push through to the third step.

Part of that progress is inherent to the circumstances at hand. The plot, set in 1999, follows Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz, very good in what could be a straightforward role), a twice-divorced police officer in Lincoln, Nebraska, attempting to transfer to a job that would move her closer to her two daughters, of whom her ex-husband has custody. The screenplay is often too on-the-nose with its expository dialogue, and the introduction to her character is the start (The ex says that she's "married to [her] job").

Kathryn takes an opportunity to serve as a police officer for the U.N.'s International Police Task Force in Sarajevo to assist local law enforcement and serve as a guiding hand among the chaos, confusion, and ethnic prejudices that run rampant in the country. She's quickly promoted to the head of Gender Affairs.

A young girl named Raya (Roxana Condurache) arrives at the station—beaten and bloodied. From there, Kathryn discovers a sex trafficking ring running out of local bars and is shocked to find that pictures on the wall feature some of her co-workers denigrating girls who are tied up. While members of the IPTF have diplomatic immunity for any crimes they may commit, Kathryn cannot allow the injustice to continue, and her boss Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) and internal affairs officer Peter Ward (David Strathairn) offer assistance.

There's a genuinely discomforting sense of the walls closing in around Kathryn as her investigation unfolds (Kondracki uses a lot of shallow focus of spaces behind Kathryn and often sets her to the extreme side of the frame to highlight the sensation). Every step forward she takes puts her in the way of a brick wall. A raid on one of the bars that keeps the girls prisoner leads to a promise by the police that they will be sent to a local shelter, and upon showing up, Kathryn learns that none of them have arrived—and none of them will, either. The company's human resources department uses a slimy rep (William Hope) to attempt to convince her to take some personal time to visit her children, and he disgustingly turns it against her when she refuses ("Not the maternal type?"). Her immediate boss (Benedict Cumberbatch) engages in casual sexual harassment against her, and the other male employees stare with revulsion or throw thinly disguised threats at her.

This extended section of the movie works for the most part. It's intercut with scenes of Raya and others tortured and raped in their confinement (The most disturbing of the assaults is suggested in screams and a dropped lead pipe), serving as a constant reminder of the cruelty against which Kathryn is fighting.

Kondracki and Kirwan use Raya and her mother (Coca Bloos), who spends most of the movie waiting—to no avail—for the bureaucracy of the Bosnian government to help her, to illustrate the human loss of sex trafficking, and the screenplay misses an opportunity to illustrate the causes. We first see Raya and her mother fighting, leading the girl to become involved with the wrong person (her uncle, no less) as, we suppose, an escape from a frustrating home life.

There's a system in place, full of despicable men, corrupt cops, and violent clients, so when The Whistleblower shifts its anger toward the even more shadowy military-industrial complex, with its behind-the-scenes manipulations and apathy toward the brutality occurring under its watch but with even less development than the trafficking ring, the movie loses its impact.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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