Larysa Kondracki’s powerful new film “The Whistle Blower,” takes a harsh and disturbing look at sex trafficking, a major global problem that doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
There were parts in this movie that made my skin crawl and blood boil. We see the emotionally scarred and beaten down faces of young sex slaves recovering in a filthy shelter. The look on a Ukrainian mother’s face as she finds out that her sister’s husband sold her daughter into slavery. And the very graphic rape of a girl who tried to escape her captors. It’s an ugly and sometimes frustrating movie but in a positive and compelling way. And the fact that it’s based on the true story makes it all the more gripping.
The center of the film is Rachel Weisz playing Katherine Bolkovic, a Nebraskan cop who takes a job as UN Peacekeeper in Bosnia only to uncover a major sex trafficking scandal. Bolkovic is good hearted, determined to do her job and make a difference, even if the people around her could care less about anything.
Once again, Weisz has proven that she can play a strong woman on screen, whether her role is a serious one as in this movie, or one as silly as “The Mummy.” She isn’t overdramatic yet she isn’t bland. She makes us feel for her and what she is doing. And with most of the main characters being slimy men she holds her own against them, such as when her raid of a bar holding sex slaves is broken up by corrupted U.N officials. She stands her ground, fighting back.
The structure of “The Whistle Blower” is standard conspiracy/cover up theory fare. When Bolkovic discovers the gruesome sex trade operation she does an awful lot of running around from place to place, getting into heated arguments, trying to get abused and frightened women to testify, searching through documents to get to the bottom of things. There’s even a scene where Bolkovic puts rape pictures and documents on a corkboard and stares intently at them to try and find a connection.
And of course, the cover up is everywhere. The Bosnian policemen are corrupt, as are the low level U.N Peacekeepers and the high up officials. It’s Katherine vs. the world. Except for a few kind hearted U.N officers, like Peter Ward (David Strathairn) and Madeleine Ross (Vanessa Redgrave in a cameo), no one can be trusted. But dammit, Katherine is still determined to get the sex slaves the justice they deserve, even when she’s threatened and stripped of her credentials. And we’re rooting for her every step of the way.
Weisz’s performance and the shear intensity of the content are more then enough to make up for the fact that the movies structure is formulaic. And watching the film, I constantly got the same feeling I get when I watch a vigilante movie: I wanted Bolkovic to go Charles Bronson on the whole bunch of crooked officials.
For being a first time director, Kondracki does surprisingly well at bringing out the grimy viciousness of the movie’s environment. Toward the beginning when Bolkovic goes to a bar that is a known sex trafficking hangout, she uncovers an utterly gross and dank holding room, littered with used condoms and beer bottles. It’s a little hard to stomach.
The ending of the film is bittersweet. On one hand some progress is made but on the other it’s still not a completely satisfying ending. But since this is a story based on a real problem going on in the world. It’s less important to have a happy Hollywood ending and more important to bring this problem to our attention so it can be addressed.