by Richard von Busack
Aware of the problems of an audience with compassion fatigue, novice filmmaker Larysa Kondracki takes already sensational material and pumps it up. The Whistleblower is based on the case of Kathryn Bolkovac (a thoroughly miscast Rachel Weisz), a police officer from Nebraska who went to the Balkans to work for the UN via a private security firm DemoCra Security. (The real life scandal involved DynCo.)
Bolkovac is stationed in war-worn city of Sarajevo, where she enforces the law against beating women in a country where the local cops say “She was Muslim, so she deserved it.”
She discovers that some local roadhouses are keeping prostitutes prisoners. Not just that the local cops but her company are involved in the slavery. Not only don’t they like being exposed, they know everything about her investigation. (It might be because Kathryn, honoring the old cop-show trope, has a corkboard with Polaroids and post-its right out where they can be easily found.) Weisz’s fellow actors are no relief. Benedict Cumberbatch turns up, scowls and vanishes. As a mucky muck for the UN, Vanessa Redgrave is there to make tea for Kathryn and say, “You’ve just done in 4 months what we couldn’t do in 2 years”. One mitigation: Monica Bellucci as some kind of frowning NGO officer who looks like she knows the lay of the land.
Keeping the generic title of Bolkovac’s book, The Whistleblower tries for the Soderbergh style of trembly-cam and bluish low lighting (perhaps justifiable in a power-failure blighted land). When Kondracki tries to express the ruined beauty of Sarajevo, it’s in TV commercial terms, with the gong of a church bell and a flock of startled pigeons. The Whistleblower is an uneasy combo of the stylized and the Saw-like specific. There’s the myriad deliberate out of focus shots, and a soundtrack of sonic moans. But the details are in sharp relief: “This is what happens when you talk to the devil,” says a foreign accented pimp to a room full of grubby terrified underage sex slaves, one of whom talked to the law. And then we get to see what happens, complete with shrieks. Kondracki wants our noses rubbed in it to make the paranoid encirclement complete.
The Whistleblower is yet another film based on real events that you wish would end so you could go out and find a good book on the subject. It maybe to the film’s credit that it doesn’t resolve things on a happy ending, but this mix of the exploitative and the undercooked makes an audience feel victimized, helpless.