Whistleblower, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/04/11 12:49:34

"A decent movie that gets a boost by being based on a true story."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2011: "The Whistleblower" has a good cast and a topic that provokes a strong emotional reaction, and when a project starts with that, making a memorable film can often come down to not screwing up. Co-writer/director Larysa Kondracki doesn't screw up; she makes a movie that's a notch or two above average, and the "based on a true story" factor doesn't hurt it at all.

It's 1999, and two women on different sides of the world have no idea they're on intersecting paths. Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a police officer in Nebraska, very good at her job but frustrated because she's having a hard time finding a department to transfer to near Atlanta, where her ex-husband is moving with her daughter. The lead she gets - working for a UN contracter to assist local law enforcement in Bosnia-Herzegovina - is a few thousand miles in the wrong direction, but the pay is good enough to give her a cushion when her hitch is up. Raya (Roxana Condurache) is a recent high-school graduate in Eastern Europe, whose friend Irka (Rayisa Kondracki) has lined up a chance to go west, working as waitresses and au pairs. Kathryn thrives - after helping the locals with their first successful domestic violence prosecution, UN Mission official Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) gets her a post handling "gender issues". Raya and Irka, on the other hand, wind up in a situation where they need Kathryn's help badly, which is made more difficult because both the local police force and the contractors are thoroughly corrupt.

The cast won't necessarily bowl audiences over, but it may raise eyebrows. Rachel Wesiz, for instance, seldom disappoints, and she doesn't here. It's a precisely-pitched performance; there's never any doubt that she is very good at her job or that she is passionate about helping the women she finds in Bosnia, but she's not one-note or overly intense about it. She lets the audience see something developing with fellow "adviser" Jan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) without gushy moments and similarly builds the increasing stress she's under.

She's supported by a top-notch group of actors. Kaas, for instance, is generally a lead in his native Denmark, but plays a small part well here. Redgrave is always a pleasure to see, and is sharp here. David Strathairn plays up to his usual standard as the internal affairs investigator looking into what Kathryn has found, while Monica Bellucci is similarly good in the part of a not-unsympathetic but by-the-book bureaucrat. Condurache, Kondracki, and more give harrowing performances as the young girls forced into slavery, and there are a fair number of other familiar (and unfamiliar-but-good) actors filling out the rest of the cast.

A lot, in fact, and that large cast of characters can be an issue: There are times when the audience might wish for an org chart to see who is working for the UN and who is working for "Democra" (a composite of several firms, although Dyncorp had the worst reputation in real life), and who answers to who in theory and practice. Minor and supporting characters blur together, to the point where it's hard not to find oneself referring to the Democra bad eggs by the places where the other actor has appeared in the past just to keep them separate. Time in the last act is spent with Raya's mother so that the film can practically break the fourth wall to describe to her (and us) how human trafficking victims are often betrayed by those close to them.

Kondracki's & Ellis Kirwan's script seems to strike a reasonable balance between accuracy and drama, though not always an easy one. Per the Q&A at the festival, Bolkovac didn't have look nearly as hard in real life to find wrongdoing as in the movie - it was pervasive from the start of training - and the kids involved were often much younger than Raya and Irka. These changes help the movie work as a thriller, and if that's what getting the story out there takes, it's hard to complain.

As thrillers go, it's not bad at all, and the cast and crew are certainly invested in the story. "The Whistleblower" gets honest emotion out of the audience, even without the "based on a true story" multiplier.

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