A tepid account of sex scandal
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Aug 12, 2011
Inspired by actual events, "The Whistleblower" is a classic example of a film that doesn't trust the strength of its source material - or the intelligence of its audience. Judging by the heavy-handedness of first-time feature filmmaker Larysa Kondracki and her co-writer, Eilis Kirwan, the film seems targeted toward a strange, and probably nonexistent, demographic: People who are on the fence about the problem of international sex trafficking.
That's its starting point - that the enforced prostitution of girls and young women is a bad thing. But it argues that point with such a belligerent lack of finesse, and with such insistent finger jabbing, that it quickly puts the audience on the defensive. Hey, we're on your side, remember? Hardened kidnappers, thugs and pimps are not going to line up for this movie.
Set in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the months after the end of the mid-1990s war there, "The Whistleblower" is the fictionalized account of real-life American cop-turned-United-Nations-peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz). After taking over that agency's gender-affairs department, Kathy, as she's called, quickly uncovers a rat's nest of sex slavery involving girls procured from nearby countries. What's worse, it's not just happening under the blind eye of the multinational police force that was sent there to protect and serve, but with its active complicity.
If true, it's a horrible thing.
Unfortunately, "The Whistleblower" leans so hard on its argument that it strains credulity. It's not Bolkovac's story we doubt; it's the movie that's hard to swallow. Bolkovac sued - and won - when she was wrongfully dismissed by the contracting company that hired her, after she tried, unsuccessfully, to shut down the cop-sponsored (and cop-patronized) whorehouses. We believe her.
Why not the movie itself? Clumsy writing and weak performances, for one thing. In a cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn as two of Bolkovac's few supporters, just about the only character I ever believed was the distraught mother of the teenage girl around whom the plot revolves (German actress Jeanette Hain).
But the biggest problem is the one-dimensionality of the characters. Although Kathy is shown to have a troubled marriage back in the states, and although she embarks on an affair with a sympathetic married officer from Holland (Nikolaj Lie Kass), she's otherwise as saintly as Joan of Arc. On the other side, the men are all monsters, with a few exceptions. Even the H.R. guy who fires Kathy (William Hope) is a heavy straight out of the old damsel-in-distress serials of the silent era. Do no villains have souls?
Not in "The Whistleblower." The filmmakers are too scared to show them.
And speaking of scared: The American contracting company at the heart of the story - the one that hired and then fired Bolkovac - is identified in the film by the made-up name of Democra. In point of fact, the company Bolkovac worked for was DynCorp., which is now based in Falls Church. In a movie that's brave enough to use Bolkovac's real name, and that uses the real name of Bolkovac's mentor at the United Nations, Madeleine Rees (played by Redgrave), that just seems cowardly.
Contains obscenity, violence, rape, nudity, brief sensuality and thematic material related to drugs, torture and prostitution. In English and several other unidentified languages with English subtitles.