Instead of running the title card “based on a true story” up front, “The Whistleblower,” a new drama starring Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci and Vanessa Redgrave, begins with the disclaimer “inspired by true events. Some of the characters may be composites or fictitious.” No “just the facts ma’am” for this movie. The filmmakers decided to take a perfectly serviceable and important story and tart it up with Hollywood story elements. Because facts are often stranger than fiction, it’s a shame they didn’t stick more with the truth and less with the movie contrivances.
Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac a Nebraska policewoman based on a real life person of the same name. Divorced, she’s desperate to move across country to be closer to her kids but can’t lay her hands on either the job transfer or the money to make the trip. To raise the cash she takes a six month job as a peace keeper in Sarajevo, Bosnia. War has ended and a company called Democra Security has been contracted by the U.N. to help smooth the transition from strife to peace. Soon, however, she uncovers a human trafficking ring specializing in young women sold into prostitution. Uncovering a far reaching conspiracy she finds herself making some powerful enemies.
“The Whistleblower” is a well intentioned film that more often than not plays like an episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” albeit with more exotic locations. It’s a police procedural with many of the tried and true plot devices of the genre. Evidence seems to show up when needed, progress is inevitably slowed by bureaucratic process and the main character is true blue. “I’m an American police officer,” she says to a young woman afraid that the U.N. isn’t going to be able to help, “it doesn’t matter who I work for.” No that’s plucky.
Where it differs from other procedurals is in its uncompromising imagery. A dank dungeon brothel is identified by close-ups of chains, dirty mattresses and used condoms and a scene involving the bad guys disciplining one of their captives is too grim to be described here. Those scenes have impact and underline the importance of telling this story from a humanist standpoint, but from a cinematic perspective it all feels kind of standard and often borders on the sanctimonious.
Weisz, in the role that Mariska Hargitay would have played if this was a TV movie, brings some depth to the gritty cop stereotype we’ve seen a hundred times before, conveying urgency and determination.
“The Whistleblower” is topped by an effective and exciting final reel but for my money it takes just a bit too long to get there.
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