Dir: Larysa Kondracki
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Roxana Condurache
Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Rachel Weisz possesses this rare quality -- she is beautiful without being distractingly gorgeous, the latter being a liability that sometimes prevents actresses from comfortably slipping into the skin of plain-Jane characters. In The Whistleblower, Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer so dedicated to her job that she loses a husband as well as custody of her teenaged daughter over it. Apart from delivering a powerhouse performance, she also does a credible job of never letting us think of her as a gorgeous movie star.
Not only is she the best thing about Kondracki's debut feature, but Weisz is also pretty much the only reason The Whistleblower doesn't turn into a morbid docu-feature. The story, based on actual events involving human trafficking in war-torn Bosnia circa 1999, is extremely compelling. However, the film is emotionally distant, possessing a stubborn reluctance to delve into the emotions and motivations of all its characters. Weisz's Kathryn, who takes it upon herself to be the eponymous whistleblower, adds a much-needed touch of humanism to this film.
In terms of subject matter, this film reminded me of the underrated Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, which released earlier this year. Watts played a role very similar to what Weisz has done here, and the two performances are comparable in their intensities and overall effectiveness. An Oscar nomination would be well deserved.
There is also a powerful ensemble cast of veteran actresses lending wonderful support here, from Vanessa Redgrave's dignified portrayal of Madeleine Rees, a hapless UN official, to Roxana Condurache's heartbreakingly good performance as Raya, a Ukranian teenage girl who becomes Kathryn's reason to stay in Bosnia. Uprooted from her family, Kathryn's motivations are clear -- she sees in Raya her own daughter, and will do anything in her power to protect her.
Unfortunately, the script, written by Eilis Kirwan and Kondracki herself, doesn't try and explain the motivations of the perpetrators of the crime (which apparently involves everyone from UN peacekeeping forces to high-ranking diplomats) apart from a throwaway line ("They're whores of war"). This is just my opinion, but it's always better when there is at least an attempt to deconstruct evil rather than just painting it all with the same shade of black.
This is not a film that entertains and allows you to slip back into your comfortable reclining multiplex chair while you dig into a large tub of popcorn. The Whistleblower is well paced, but frequently difficult to watch because of the graphic violence that is depicted. It packs a visceral wallop, but ultimately, one is left wishing Kondracki could've gone the distance and bundled an emotional wallop along with that as well.