Tuesday 26 June 2012

Movie Review: The Whistleblower (2010)

A story of modern day human sex trafficking based on real events, The Whistleblower is an earnest and harrowing examination of a systemic abuse that the world prefers to ignore. The film perhaps achieves its purpose too well, leaving behind an empty feeling of overwhelming helplessness.

Nebraska police officer Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) has reached a dead end in her job advancement prospects. To expand her horizons, she joins a United Nations police training mission in Bosnia. The UN has contracted the mission's organization and logistics to a pivate sector company, resulting in limited oversight of what the UN personnel are actually up to. Once in Bosnia, Kathryn proves to be a champion of local women's causes and is promoted to head a department in charge of gender affairs.

She then stumbles across bars employing Ukraininan women held against their will and forced into protitution to pay off supposed debts. Both the local police force and the commanders of the UN mission are aware of the abuse, and indeed some of the UN personnel are active participants in exploiting the girls. When Kathryn tries to help Raya, one of the sex slaves, the attempt backfires and Raya faces even worse abuse from her captors. Kathryn seeks help from advocate Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) and internal affairs officer Peter Ward (David Strathairn) to blow the whistle on the corruption in the ranks of the UN mission, putting her career and life in jeopardy.

Rachel Weisz delivers a powerful performance as Kathryn, and she is provided with enough of a background story to humanize her beyond the role of warrior for justice. Kathryn is divorced, short on money, and has lost the custody battle for her child. She carries these scars into Bosnia, and Weisz is excellent in portraying a woman fighting a lonely battle against demons from the front, the rear and within.

Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn lend weight to The Whistleblower in limited roles. Both appear in just a few scenes representing the officials who bothered to believe Kathryn and tried to help. Monica Bellucci also has a relatively small role as Laura Leviani, a UN official more interested in procedures and keeping the agency's nose clean than getting to the truth of the sex slave scandal.

First time Canadian director Larysa Kondrack keeps the focus on Kathryn but also gives Raya (an affecting Roxana Condurache), her friends and family ample screen time to put a face on the victims as they hurtle towards a harrowing fate.

Kathryn achieves a small victory at a great cost, and The Whistleblower's resonating message is the inability of any small group of individuals to stand in front of the insatiable momentum driving the sex trade across international borders. It's a grim conclusion that unfortunately undermines the movie's value. Kathryn is well-intentioned, but ultimately whistling into a strong wind.

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