Published: August 17, 2011
Directed by Larysa Kondracki
Opens Aug. 19 at the Charles Theatre
You will not really enjoy The Whistleblower, and you will feel bad about not enjoying it. Director/co-writer Larysa Kondracki might well argue that “enjoyment” is not the point. After all, the film tells the “inspired by actual events” story of an American cop who journeys to post-war Bosnia to work as a peacekeeper only to discover that her United Nations cohorts are involved in a sex slavery ring. But the evident lectern-pounding well-meaningness of Kondracki’s film doesn’t make its maladroit handling of its story and characters any more compelling to sit through.
One of the more ridiculous things about the superbly ridiculous 2005 comic adaptation Constantine was the notion of delicately sultry Rachel Weisz as a big city homicide detective. She is far more convincing here as Kathryn Bolkovac, ordinary Nebraskan patrol officer. Her small frame is wrapped in wiry muscle, the glamorous contours of her face somehow flattened out, her demeanor downcast and no-nonsense. Trying to raise money to reunite with her daughter, she accepts a lucrative assignment on a UN detail aiding Bosnian police. Her dedication wins her an assignment to deal with the war-torn nation’s not very enlightened treatment of women (Vanessa Redgrave, ethereally beautiful in her 70s, plays her boss), which leads her to a grotty bar staffed by human chattel, including teens Raya (Roxana Condurache) and Irka (Rayisa Kondracki). Kathryn makes it a personal quest to save the girls, despite interference, benign or otherwise, from a Bosnian bureaucrat (Monica Bellucci) and various shady fellow peacekeepers (including David Hewlett and Benedict Cumberbatch).
Kondracki’s surface portrayal of late ’90s/early ’00s Bosnia intrigues with its grimy backstreets and simmering ethnic tensions, but The Whistleblower plods forward like a particularly sweaty and dirty Lifetime movie. The scene in which Kathryn meets hunk-ish Dutch peacekeeper Jan (Nikolaj Lie Kass) is lifted so directly out of the standard cops-blowing-off-steam-scene playbook that you see it coming before she does. Time and again, the characters’ particular tilt toward the straight or crooked is so clearly telegraphed that by the time Kathryn complains that she can’t trust any of her fellow cops here, unlike back home in the good old U.S.A., she seems crushingly naïve. The predictable course of almost every character, and most scenes, defeats Weisz’s efforts to convey Kathryn’s angst and desperation. Other than a handful of moments involving the torment of the girls by their captors, the big emotional payoffs rarely live up to their overplaying, while many opportunities to ratchet up tension (e.g. Kathryn sneaking evidence out of a UN facility) come off inert. Throw in a tangential subplot involving those Raya and Irka left behind and the narrative never finds consistent forward momentum.
As title cards before the end credits note, human trafficking is a pernicious and growing problem worldwide, and this particular ugly chapter in its recent history—and the alleged complicity of Americans and American companies—is likely news to many. Best intentions aside, however, The Whistleblower is unlikely to do much to spread the word.
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