A vital story couched in a marginal screenplay survives through the performances of several talented leads.
Rachel Weisz has been looking for that next big film ever since her breathtaking Oscar winning performance in “Constant Gardener” in 2006. This film is not it, but it is close.
In “The Whistleblower” she plays, well, a whistleblower. Specifically, a UN peacekeeper whistleblower who finds out that her fellow officers are engaging in the white slave trade.
This film has all the ingredients for the perfect potboiler. It is a film about sex, corruption and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The problem with this recipe is that we have seen it all before, too many times. Apparently new director Larysa Kondracki saw a story and took a shot at it, merging the simmering sexuality of Weisz with the pot boiling sensuality of eastern European femininity in the context of an anarchic male dominated war zone.
This formula works as far as it goes. The film is well produced and has its share of film noir moments drenched in the guilt of sinful depravity. Of course, we in the audience love it. After all, it feels so good to be able to take in all this sinfulness while siding with the good guys.
In any event, Weisz is the good guy. As career policewoman Kathryn Bolkovac, she leaves her dead end Nebraska cop job to find her fortune as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia. She leaves cozy Nebraska because she has been passed over, again, for a promotion. A victim of the male dominated Midwest; she strikes out for even more male dominated Eastern Europe.
Emerging director Kondracki teamed up with emerging screenwriter Eilis Kirwan to pen a screenplay that is comfortably formulaic while still in keeping with the times.
The wise guys in the audience will question the point of trying to produce another “Serpico” with half the acting talent and less than half the directing talent. The point is that she told the story because it was there. It is a story that is, literally, dying to get out.
The urgency of the message is undeniable. The white slave trade exists and destroys the lives of women, and men, every day. This tragedy is another facet of America’s inability to deal with immigration issues. It is also allied with the American inability to accept women as equal partners in the work force and in the leadership elite.
Just as the Eastern European women are forced to submit to the most degrading forms of prostitution imaginable in order to immigrate, Bolkovac is forced to into second-class status as a female law enforcement officer.
This movie is half film noir thriller and half political agitprop. The problem is that it tries to do both and does neither with perfection. The subject matter is too serious to allow the audience to suspend belief for long enough to become absorbed in the action.
The performances seem forced; things a too bad to be believed and the men involved are too brutal and demented to hold the positions of power they have been granted. It cannot be as bad as this film makes it out to be. If it is that bad, it is going to take a lot more hard facts than writers Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan were able to assemble and portray in this film.
Having said that, good performances by Rachel Weisz, Benedict Cumberbatch and Monica Bellucci (not to mention David Strathairn and Vanessa Redgrave) are hampered more by a thin screenplay than by their lack of talent or dedication.
The soundtrack and cinematography are first rate, capturing the darkness of the human condition in post-Soviet Bosnia through the darkness of the shabby, rough interiors and the cold, unfathomable darkness of the streets of the war-torn city.
Even if this film is a bot predictable and bit by-the-book, it is entertaining and Informative. It tells a story that can never have too much screen time.
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Directed by: Larysa Kondracki
Written by: Larysa Kondracki, Eilis Kirwan
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Benedict Cumberbatch and Monica Bellucci
Release Date: August 5, 2011
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 118 minutes
Country: Germany / Canada