Not too far into The Whistleblower I was ready to chalk it up as another “inspired by a true story” feature wallowing in the misfortune of others as one person faces hardship in the face of many to set things right. It’s a familiar narrative that doesn’t make a film of this nature anything special and, for the most part, The Whistleblower is merely mediocre. But Rachel Weisz delivers a starring turn that gets better and better as the film wears on providing one reason for praise.
Making her feature film debut, The Whistleblower is directed and co-written by Larysa Kondracki and she has put something together that is not for the faint of heart. Set in 1999 it follows the true story of Kathy Bolkovac (Weisz) as she trades in her position as a Nebraska police officer for a job as a peacekeeper working for the United Nations in Sarajevo. Her decision was primarily money-based, but once she gets there she soon lands a position as the head of the U.N.’s Gender Office and stumbles onto a sex trafficking scandal involving members of the U.N., fellow peacekeepers, local police and just about every other authority in the region.
Kathy is forced to work through opposing factors such as the fact most of the guilty have diplomatic immunity and the girls that are being treated as “whores of war” are too afraid to speak out for reasons you will see in scenes that are disturbingly graphic. One scene in particular involving a lead pipe is so audibly disturbing, and goes on for so long, it’s quite hard to take.
This is a film primarily focusing on the ill-treatment of women and the growing rate of human trafficking. As a result it takes a singular focus on one character in particular, Raya (Roxana Condurache), a Ukrainian sex slave, whom Kathy has made it her personal mission to save.
As the stakes get raised the movie improves, primarily based on Weisz’s performance. Weisz is the only thing that keeps it going and in a scene late in the picture she really goes for it and lands a blow that elevates this film above its average origins, but she can’t deliver an overall saving grace.
The supporting cast includes small performances by Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn. All three adding very little to the film. Redgrave and Strathairn’s performances are fairly typical with Redgrave playing the head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Strathairn playing an Internal Affairs officer. Bellucci plays the ignorant head of the repatriation program serving as something of a quasi-villain but ultimately only servicing the story by adding a rather unnecessary wrinkle to a plot that wasn’t really needed.
None of this changes the fact Kondracki shows signs of being a top notch director with this serving as her feature debut. Her two lead characters are well established and she isn’t shy when it comes to the tough stuff. Had this film been able to figure out exactly what it wanted to be it could have been great, but at the very least we get an introduction to a director that could be entertaining us over the next several years and yet another solid performance to add to Weisz’s growing list.