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The Whistleblower

By Philip Martin

This article was published September 23, 2011 at 3:09 a.m.

— Based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac (played here by Rachel Weisz), a police investigator from Nebraska who found herself employed by a U.S. private sector contractor (DynCorp in real life, called Democra Corp. in the film) hired by the United Nations to monitor U.N. International Police in Bosnia, The Whistleblower is as well-intended as it is clunky.

It’s the first film by Canadian director Larysa Kondracki (who co-wrote the script with Eilis Kirwan), it’s full of earnest outrage and marred by a note of shrillness that strains credibility. The fictionalized screenplay also sometimes indulges in the sort of vague feinting associated with the sort of overreaching journalism that implies rather than shows. It left me wondering exactly what was invented,and whether things were really as bad as the film suggests. (Apparently, they were pretty bad - but the screenplay is an awkward thing in any case.)

In real life, Bolkovac was at first demoted and later fired after she discovered that some U.N. employees were involved in what used to be called “white slavery.” (A British Labor Tribunal later backed up her claims against her employer.)

In the fictional film she is semi-party girl, a free-spirited, brusque but competent policeofficer assigned to investigate sex crimes, who discovers that some of her co-workers have confiscated the passports of young prostitutes lured to Bosnia under false pretenses. The girls - some underage - have no choice but to work as “dancers” in private clubs. And, since the local population is under a curfew, most of the denizens of these clubs are U.N. peacekeepers.

While the film is at times exploitative - a scene where a young Ukrainian woman is tortured and raped as an object lesson to the other, as one particular vicious character describes them, “whores of war” is particularly difficult to watch - Weisz supplies one of her strongest performances. Her Kathryn is no superhero, just a decent woman with a badge and a duty. She’s outraged and single-minded but Weisz manages to keep her credibly human.

While it’s overstuffed with characters - David Strathairn is the only male co-worker Kathryn can trust; Vanessa Redgrave turns up in a cameo as Madeleine Rees, the head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and Monica Bellucci is an unhelpful bureaucrat who insists she’s unable to help the trafficking victims because they have no passports - and not entirely satisfying as an entertainment, the film does manage to remind us of the human capacity for rationalizing atrocity.

And the human capacity for doing the right thing nevertheless.

The Whistleblower 83 Cast: Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave Director: Larysa Kondracki Rating: R, violence, nudity, sexual assault and language Running time: 112 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 09/23/2011

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