Friday, August 5, 2011

Movie Review: The Whistleblower

The Whistleblower ***
Directed by: Larysa Kondracki.
Written By: Larysa Kondracki  & Eilis Kirwan.
Starring: Rachel Weisz (Kathryn Bolkovac), David Strathairn (Peter Ward), Vanessa Redgrave (Madeleine Reese), Monica Bellucci (Laura Levin), Benedict Cumberbatch (Nick Phillips), Liam Cunningham (Bill Hynes), David Hewlett (Fred Murray).

Larysa Kondraki’s The Whistleblower is a hard film to watch – and I mean that in a good way. It is a film that takes place in 1999 Bosnia, about an American police officer who joins the Peace Keeping Force, run by a private corporation, but contracted by the UN. There job is to train the local police on how to do their jobs. But the rampant corruption, sexism, racism and finally the way she sees young women being used as sex slaves becomes too much for her to deal with – and when no one else seems to care, she does what she has to do.

The film stars Rachel Weisz, in one of her best performances, as Kathryn Bolkovac a Nebraska cop who decides to take the Peace Keeping job in Bosnia because she will make $100,000 tax free for six months work – enough money to get her closer to her daughter who has moved to Florida with her father. She thinks the job will be easy, because after all the war is already over. What she finds when she gets to Bosnia though is worse than she thought. The local cops are sexist and racist jerks – when a Muslim woman comes in to file a complaint against her husband, they ignore her – she’s Muslim, she deserved it. She fights for that woman and gets noticed by Madeline Reese (Vanessa Redgrave) who gives her another assignment- as head of the Gender Relations Unit. It’s here that she discovers the world of sex trafficking – where young girls are brought over the border from the surrounding areas and sold into sex slavery. This is worse than prostitution, because at least prostitutes get paid, and can leave when they want to. The young girls here have no such choice. Worse yet, it seems like the clients for these girls is not the local populace – who is poor – but all the international people in Bosnia – including the UN Peacekeepers Kathryn works with. The deeper she digs, the worse things get – and the less everyone wants to know.

Weisz carries the movie with her excellent performance as Bolkovac. Often I find her too mannered in her performances – you catch her acting too much. But here, for whatever reason, she has toned that down and delivered a really strong performance. She doesn’t portray Bolkovac as some sort of hero – but rather a regular woman who is horrified by what she sees around her – and even more horrified that no one else seems horrified. The other performances – Redgrave as Reese, David Straithairn as an Internal Affairs officer, both of whom try to help her – are serviceable. The notable exception being the young actress who plays the only one of the sex slaves that we actually get to know (when I wrote this review, she wasn’t listed on IMDB, so I don’t know who she is). Her performance is primal and terrifying – and is at the heart of two of the toughest scenes to stomach that I have seen in a recent movie. The violence and cruelty in those scenes is stomach churning – which is exactly how it should be.

The Whistleblower tells an important story – but it doesn’t jam its message down your throat – it is not a preachy movie in the least. Rather it approaches its subject matter almost like a thriller would – and once it has you hooked, it doesn’t let go. It sinks it claws into you and forces you to endure the torment on display. It is not an easy movie to like – but it is a vital one.

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