Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is an American police officer who takes a job as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia at the UN Gender Office in 1999, investigating rape, domestic abuse and sex trafficking, reporting to Human Rights Commissioner Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave). Her expectations of helping to rebuild a devastated country are dashed when she uncovers a dangerous web of corruption, including the cover-up of the sex trafficking amid a world of private contractors, multinational service personnel and indifferent UN managers.
Review by Louise Keller:
The horrors of human trafficking are canvassed in this sobering true story set in post-war Bosnia. The facts are shocking and disturbing especially as the trafficking takes place under the auspices of do-gooders who benefit financially from the transaction. Larysa Kondracki's debut feature tells the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who inadvertently stumbles across disturbing facts when offered the role of peace keeper for the United Nations. It's a story that should be told and Rachel Weisz's knockout performance is filled with integrity. My only reservation lies in the storytelling which never elicits the heartbreak it should.
When Kathryn (Weisz) decides to take up a post in Bosnia, there are several factors in play. Despite the respect she commands in the police force, she is unable to get a transfer to be near her sons and teenage daughter; the pain of sole custody being granted to her ex husband is still raw. With the promise of a lucrative contract and the possibility of being able to make a difference, Kathryn jumps at the chance of a role as a peace keeper. However it takes no time at all after her arrival to see evidence of trafficking and mistreatment of young girls, who are being raped, kidnapped and tortured.
Peacekeepers to protect the innocent? Or perpetrators of the worst kind? As Kathryn unravels the ugly truth about the military, the police and the diplomats, all of whom have diplomatic immunity, she digs herself deeper and deeper into an impossible situation - physically and emotionally. When Kathryn becomes personally involved with Raya (Roxana Condurache) one of the abducted girls, we sense her commitment and her determination to keep the promise she makes.
Co-written by Eilis Kirwan, the script fails to always grip where it should, although performances are excellent. Vanessa Redgrave is a comforting presence as the head of the UN Women's Right and Gender Unit and David Strathairn solid as the head of Internal Affairs. But it is the girls and their plight that remain front of mind. The terror in their eyes is a haunting reminder that human trafficking is a dreadful malaise of our society and involves two and a half million people throughout the world.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
And still the stories come from Bosnia, stories of man's inhumanity to man, and this time, not from the ethnic conflict but from the peacekeepers sent there with the best intentions, but instead of keeping the peace, they kept a piece of the action. Sex trafficking flourished in 1999 and it took a small town police woman to do something about it.
Arriving in Bosnia for a 6 month contract to make some extra money so she could move closer to her children after a divorce which gave their father custody, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) finds herself attached to the Gender Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave). But even here, she isn't directed to investigate trafficking - she discovers it for herself.
She puts a lot of noses out of joint in her determined quest to stop the trade and bring the criminals to justice, but discovers to her horror that many of the criminals work for the UN itself, and are keen to protect their trade.
The film's success relies on its veracity, not only in characterisation but in creating a sense of place, which it does superbly, recreating the crumbling post-war Bosnia, filled with detail and gritty realism. Michael Danna's score is also a great contribution to the film's emotional impact.
Like all such films, especially like this one based on real events, we feel outrage and frustration, a dead sense of injustice and brutality. But there is a valid reason to stir us up, and that is simply the need to bring out into the open for the world to see - and hopefully for the world to learn - what can happen without constant vigilance. Morality in human affairs is exactly what the UN should always be driving for, that is its reason for existence.
The film is made with great passion and with great skill. Weisz is like a speeding train, furious one minute, tender the next as she confronts the traffickers or supports some of their victims. Redgrave is outstanding as the caring and quietly determined UN Commissioner, while David Strathairn turns up quite late but delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as Internal Affairs.
Nikolaj Lie Kaas is effective and likeable as one of the few decent men in the peacekeeping force, although the relationship with Kathryn has very little to do with the central story.
But most credit must go the young women who play the victims of these crimes, smuggled into hellholes, beaten and threatened, forced into sex and in fear for their lives. It could not have been an easy role for any of them and their courage pays respect to the real victims. It's a powerful and engaging film which gives no easy answers but tells an important story.
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WHISTLEBLOWER, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Rachel Weisz, Monica Belucci, Benedict Cumberbatch, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Liam Cunningham, David Hewlett, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Ravisa Kondracki
PRODUCER: Amy Kaufman, Christina Piovesan, Celine Rattray
DIRECTOR: Larysa Kondracki
SCRIPT: Larysa Kondracki, Eilis Kirwan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kieran McGuigan
EDITOR: Julian Clarke
MUSIC: Michael Danna
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Caroline Foellmer
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 29, 2011