Severe and unflinching, The Whistleblower relies on journalistic realism to pack its punch. Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz stars as the UN-contracted peacekeeper who uncovers a human trafficking operation in post-war Bosnia. Based on a true story, the subject matter alone is so staggering it's hard to comprehend, and director Larysa Kondracki's simple and direct portrayal of brutal events may prove excessive to some viewers. This film may be more discussed than watched.
Weisz plays Kathryn, a regular cop from Nebraska who quickly finds herself in over her head when she joins a UN mission in Bosnia. Although her personal problems at home motivate her move, in particular her need for money, she quickly becomes more earnest in her efforts to investigate the truth.
Though initial evidence is murky, Kathryn dives into the investigation of a rumored sex crime ring. Her motives remain unclear; this is a riskier venture than we'd expect from a woman who joined the force for a pay check. What's obvious is that all her efforts are hampered by demonstrably shady colleagues and superiors, a menacing old boys' club as immature as any collegiate fraternity but ten times as dangerous. Factual evidence goes missing, threats are made and the sexism reaches peak levels. Curiously, this atmosphere serves to fuel her determination. Her only ally seems to be a superior officer (stiffly portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave) who offers her surprisingly little assistance.
By the time it becomes evident that Kathryn is really an old fashioned Hollywood heroine in an unconventional modern setting, Kondracki's directorial distancing, specifically her cool realism, has had an effect—we're simply not invested in her main character.
Kondracki pushes the boundaries of the political thriller in sordid directions but shields the audience early on, as if in preparation for the kidnappings and torture we watch the sex trade workers face further into the film. But she loses her grip when the film transitions from stark realism to sensory overload. What should have been a natural progression becomes a too-violent swing towards Big Emotion.
Weisz's role seems to demand her to weave between the emotional extremes of sensitivity and strength, but the best she can do is maintain a steely resolve. It's as if this lack of emotion is supposed to offset the disturbing nature of the film's subject. Time and again, we are reminded that she herself is facing harsh circumstances, both within her own organization and without—but in contrast to the troubles she's saving the sex trade victims from, this juxtaposition seems in somewhat poor taste.
Yet, Kathryn is admirable in her determination to seek justice despite enduring personal danger. She eventually divulges the shocking truth, directly and assuredly speaking to the press and implicating the UN in the process. Kondracki's handling of the machinations in this tale, mixed with the highly charged portrayal of the circumstances of this human trafficking operation, may be flawed but it is nevertheless laudable.
Distributor: Samuel Goldwin
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Screenwriters: Eilis Kirwan, Larysa Kondracki
Producers: Christina Piovesan, Celine Rattray, Amy Kaufman
Rating: R for disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language.
Running time: 130 min.
Release date: August 5 ltd.