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Review: The Whistleblower (2011)

The Whistleblower (2011)

Directed by: Larysa Kondracki

Premise: Based on a true story, Nebraskan police officer Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) joins U.N. peacekeepers in post-war Bosnia and uncovers a sex trafficking ring.

What Works: There is a trend of films recently trying to deal with the legacy of the Bosnian War and The Whistleblower is one of the better pictures. There are a number of extraordinary things about this film that make it not only an exceptional piece of filmmaking but a subversive picture as well. To start the film has an American protagonist and The Whistleblower could very easily slip into a fault that a lot of American filmmakers consciously or unconsciously slip into, in which Americans travel overseas and fix everything. The Whistleblower is told from the point of view of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American who did travel overseas with the best of intentions, but the film avoids oversimplified cultural imperialism. Bolkovac, played by Rachel Weisz, uncovers a sex trafficking ring and the film focuses on her investigation. She is harassed and obstructed at every turn and the difficulty that she encounters mutes any simple solution. The filmmaker’s dramatization of Bolkovac’s investigation is very well done and the movie is as exciting and dramatically satisfying as any action film but it also stays in touch with the human dimension of the victims. That leads to the second quality that makes The Whistleblower unique and that is the way in which the filmmakers deal with the subject matter. Movies about sexual abuse have an inherent challenge. On one hand, if they shy away from depicting the abuse they risk trivializing it. However, films that graphically depict sexual abuse also risk being exploitative. In that respect the filmmakers of The Whistleblower do a great job by using subtle but effective choices in staging and filming the violence so that the viewer experiences it viscerally but the focus and empathy remains on the experience of the victim. The impact of sexual violence is not limited to the immediate experience of trafficked women and that is yet another way in which The Whistleblower is distinguished. The filmmakers recognize how sexual abuse arises not just out of individual actions but also out of a culture that condones it and this film demonstrates in very cinematic ways how violence against women is systemic. That makes The Whistleblower sound like a didactic film but it isn’t. The filmmakers are smart enough to realize that the attentive viewers will get it and focus on the drama and moviemaking, allowing the thematic points to arise organically out of the picture. Actress Rachel Weisz delivers a great performance in the lead role. She is professional and serious but the film also makes her a compassionate human being and the depiction of her struggle makes her a far more tangible character than a lot of cinematic depictions of military and law enforcement personnel.  

What Doesn’t: The Whistleblower is a tough movie and it might be more than some viewers are prepared for. Although it is closer to The Accused than I Spit on Your Grave in tone and taste, it is nevertheless difficult. This is a confrontational film but those qualities are exactly what make it so impressive.

DVD extras: Featurette.

Bottom Line: The Whistleblower is a tough movie dealing with systemic violence against women. It’s also a very well made film that ought to be more widely seen.

Episode: #401 (August 19, 2012)