In The Whistleblower, Rachel Weisz delivers a sensational, captivating performance as Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer and divorced mother from Lincoln, Neb., who accepted a lucrative offer in 1999 to serve as a peacekeeping officer in Bosnia for six months and wound up uncovering a shocking conspiracy involving human trafficking, underage girls and the United Nations.
Weisz portrays Bolkovac as a devoted investigator who can’t believe what she’s stumbled onto but pursues her leads doggedly — at first out of incredulity and obligation; eventually, out of outrage and a desire for justice. In Weisz’s eyes, we see Kathryn’s transformation from a public servant doing what’s expected of her to a crusader driven to by her own conscience. Her performance is terrific; the movie, sadly, is not.
First-time director Larysa Kondracki, who also co-wrote the script, is the kind of filmmaker who doesn’t trust her audience: She hammers away at the viewer relentlessly, as if she were afraid we would miss the extremity of the crimes that were committed (the movie is based on actual events). As Kathryn’s investigation — which begins when she attempts to help a group of terrified young prostitutes — gathers steam, her superiors and co-workers (including Vanessa Redgrave and Monica Bellucci) claim to be unable to help, or even become impediments to her detective work. The case is related joylessly, with an emphasis on its dehumanizing aspects.
Unlike other fact-based dramas about whistleblowers (such as The Insider or Silkwood), the movie never develops any dramatic momentum or pull: The film is just a procession of increasingly grim and ugly scenarios and discoveries, capped off by a wildly frustrating ending. Kathryn places herself in increasingly greater danger as her investigation proceeds — danger from both outside and inside the U.N. — but we know she, at least, will emerge from the experience alive. Some of the women she’s trying to help, however, may not be as lucky.
The Whistleblower sends you out of the theater thoroughly depressed and angry that the U.S. government continues to employ the security firm DynCorp International, the main culprits of the unspeakable crimes committed in the film. But aside from Weisz, The Whistleblower fails as a movie — self-important and heavy-handed when it should be harrowing and heartbreaking, and intent on feeling your outrage for you.
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
Director: Larysa Kondracki.
Screenwriters: Larisa Kondracki, Ellis Kirwan.
Producers: Amy Kaufman, Christina Piovesan, Celine Rattray.
A Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Running time: 118 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, graphic rape, strong adult themes. Opens Friday Sept. 2 in Miami-Dade: Intracoastal; in Broward: Sunrise; in Palm Beach: Delray, Cinamax, Shadowood.