January 25, 2012


This is one of those all too rare films I had never heard of until it was released. I'll clarify: I read a lot of film news and reviews, across a number of different websites and blogs, based here in New Zealand and overseas and I had, not once, come across any mention of The Whistleblower. It's odd enough I felt moved to mention it here. And to also ponder the confusing nature (from an outsider perspective) of international distribution. Why is it The Whistleblower is afforded a theatrical release in New Zealand while other small-medium films - Super, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil etc - are released straight to DVD, months after they've played internationally? Perhaps a question to be explored in a longer post.

The Whistleblower is the true-story of Nebraskan cop Kathryn Bolkovac who takes a job as a peacekeeper/supervisor in post-war Bosnia and comes to find herself involved in investigating prevalent trafficking of female sex slaves. She's a tough but caring character, an honest cop apparently taking the job for the big pay-day which will allow her to move closer to her daughter. Her expectations and sense of Western morality are challenged once she's actually got boots on ground - the majority of her fellow peacekeepers seem to have no experience in law-enforcement and crimes against Bosnian women, Muslims especially, are all but never investigated. The successful conviction of an abusive husband leads to her being appointed to a Women's Affairs role where she where she comes across a dodgy, dingy Bosnian bar. There is evidence not only of women being sexually abused and trafficked across the borders, but that UN employees are active participants.

The film is structured like a police procedural thriller - the uncovering of evidence, the horrific crimes - but the sense of tension never really extends to Bolkovac. There is no real point where it feels like she herself could be in any real danger. Oh, there are some threatening phone-calls and there is increasing evidence of the higher-ups attempting to cover everything up, but there is no threat of physical harm to her, or even threats to her reputation. So while there is a genuine threat of harm and possible death hanging over the poor girls who are abused and degraded, Bolkovac feels largely untouchable. Weisz is, of course, an easily assured presence as Bolkovac as she tries to navigate the confounding bureaucracy surrounding the post-conflict area.

More frustrating the sense of flat tension though, is the cinematography choices. Honestly I'm about at my limit of close, shaky camera work; there's is something to be said for a well-constructed and laid out shot. This type of camera work no longer serves to bring me in closer to the action but instead distances me by making itself known.

The Whistleblower is a decent enough, generally pretty intelligent film that really isn't too much more than that. It doesn't really achieve any sort of screaming indictment or powerhouse presentation: the power of the film comes from the actual true-story itself, rather than any effort from the filmmakers. Again, which is not to entirely deride it or them. Everyone does fine enough work here. There are appearances throughout from other great actors like Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci and Benedict Cumberbatch with painful and powerful work from the unknowns playing the poor girls.

And this is all in service of telling us about very real, very horrific historic events; events that serve to anger any right-minded individual. The extent to which the UN heads are shown to be complicit in derailing the investigation to avoid scandal is an indictment on everyone involved. It's just that the film doesn't achieve anything more than that; it doesn't fully engage and involve it's audience. 

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