No good deed goes unpunished. That's the hard lesson a woman cop learns in "The Whistleblower," a grim drama inspired by real life events.
The movie, with its ballsy heroine who zealously attempts to right injustices and uncover conspiracy and corruption, is in spirit if not overall achievement a throwback to films of the ‘70s and ‘80s like “Norma Rae,” “Silkwood” and “Marie.”
“Inspired by” is, of course, a catch-all phrase that appears at the beginning of movies to signal to viewers that liberties have been taken with the real life story in hopes of shaping it into a more compelling dramatic form. In the case of “Whistleblower,” that means turning up the heat on the story’s catch-the-bad-guys focus.
Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a policewoman and divorced mother (her ex has custody) in Nebraska who, attracted by the job’s high salary, heads over to Sarajevo in post-war Bosnia in 1999 to work as a United Nations peacekeeper. She is soon promoted to head the gender crimes unit and, during a raid on a bar, comes across evidence–passports belonging to teenage girls–pointing to a sex trafficking operation.
The deeper Bolkovac probes, the more it becomes clear that such sex slavery, a brutal business involving teenage girls and young women smuggled in from neighboring Eastern European countries, is being propagated by, and propped up with the complicity of, members of local law enforcement organizations and international diplomatic and non-governmental groups.
When Bolkovac tries to blow the whistle on her own colleagues, higher-ups turn a deaf ear and try to remove her instead. Will she be able to save the girls and get the evidence out in time?
The challenge for Larysa Kondracki, a first-time director and co-screenwriter, is to make a story of stomach-turning bureaucratic crime and cover-up into a compelling thriller, one filled with mounting tension and danger. She only half succeeds. The movie never quite makes the transition from earnest to dramatically affecting.
By far the best thing about “Whistleblower” is Weisz’s strong performance. Her Bolkovac is a tough cookie who is going to persevere no matter how powerful or violent the response of those telling her to pipe down and desist. While Weisz’s Midwestern accent may be a little overdone at times, she hits all the right notes in revealing her character’s anguish and determination.
Popping up in supporting roles are Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci and Benedict Cumberbatch, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The first two shine but Bellucci seems almost glacial and the talented Cumberbatch’s part is so minuscule that, if he’d phoned in his lines and a cardboard cutout of him appeared, it would have been just as good.
In the end, “Whistleblower” gets points for bringing a tough topic that deserves attention to the screen, and for Weisz’s compelling performance. It’s a worthy film, but there’s little that’s fresh or unexpected here.