Posted by Redgrrrl26 on:
After attending a nearly-full screening of The Whistleblower, I would first like to congratulate my fellow film fest goers on making it out to such a heavy-duty film on a soggy Sunday evening.
But please don't be scared off by its heavy-dutiness, go see The Whistleblower.
I know, I know. The natural human response to something that is "good for you" is a reflexive "icch." Bear with me.
"Inspired by" the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac during her time as a peace keeper in Bosnia, The Whistleblower focuses on the human sex trafficking going on right under the noses of the very forces who are supposed to be fighting these sorts of crimes. When we first meet Kathy, played by the supremely talented Rachel Weisz, she is a police officer in Nebraska trying desperately to get a transfer out of her precinct. Her ex-husband, the custodial parent, is moving their three kids and his new wife out of town and Kathy wants to stay close to her children. But Kathy can't catch a break.
When she learns that a private US contractor is recruiting for peace keepers in Bosnia at the rate of a tax-free $100 grand for six months' work, cha-ching!, Kathy heads off to Bosnia. One six-month assignment, she'll collect a big payday, and then it's back to the States and quality time with the kids.
What is it they say about the best laid plans?
It's pretty clear she's not in Kansas, or Nebraska, anymore as soon as she and the one other female peace keeper, Zoe, arrive at the officers' living quarters. As they walk through the front door, the unmistakable whiff of frat-casual is evident from the TP hanging off the building, the loud music in the background and a bunch of dudes running around outside screaming "whoo!"
I will admit, there were what felt like a few heavy-handed moments early on as Kathy gets her sea-legs. She plays a round of pinball in a friendly USA vs. The Netherlands game; the pinball machine itself displays naked women with stars covering their lady parts. If there really was a pinball machine with naked women in Bosnia, then I take it all back. But otherwise, it did feel a bit like the director Larysa Kondracki was really, really making sure we understood the deeply entrenched sexism surrounding Kathy.
Which was really not necessary since there were plenty of much more subtle, and devastating, moments to make the point; like the female Muslim victim of domestic abuse whose case none of the local Bosnian officers want to take...because she's Muslim. Why bother? Or the teenage girl, Rayisa, who has been found beaten, abused, raped and tortured.
When Kathy meets Rayisa, the story really kicks into gear and finds its pace. As Kathy works to get assistance for the girl, she starts to encounter widespread resistance among the Bosnian cops and her own peace keepers to taking action. As a sworn police officer, Kathy is determined to do the right thing and convinces Rayisa to testify against the man who held her as a slave. Kathy's work catches the eye of another UN officer, played by the amazing Vanessa Redgrave, and Kathy is offered the position of head of the UN's Bosnian Gender Affairs Office.
As Kathy begins to investigate what she thinks is one dirty peace keeper involved in the human trafficking, she quickly finds he may be just the tip of the iceberg. As we follow both Kathy and Rayisa down the rabbit hole, the story gets darker as the scope of the trafficking and the amount of human misery on display become truly heart-breaking. There are two brief but brutal scenes which are difficult to watch and I found myself looking away for a few quick moments.
But I'm very grateful writer-director Larisa Kondracki chose not to look away. Like I said at the top, although it's tempting to act like a fussy two-year-old in the face of something "good for you," Kondracki mostly manages to pull off a delicate balancing act here of both delicious and nutritious. The film is smart, engaging and wears its big heart proudly on its sleeve. At the same time, it also sheds light on what may be the most heinous crime one human being can do to another: human sex trafficking.
Although the script felt a bit rough in spots, in particular in the beginning, the almost uniformly stellar performances more than make up for it. Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, and the always-welcome David Straitharn light up every scene they are in. And the young actress, Irka, who played Rayisa, as well as Jeanette Hain, who played her quietly suffering mother, Slava, are both revelations.
Like I said, it's a good movie and it's also good for you. It's not always easy to watch, but if you can, please do. It plays once more on Tuesday, February 1st at 11:00am at the Lobero.
And yes, if you go, the title of this post will finally make sense.
UPDATE: An additional screening of The Whistleblower has been added to the schedule. It will be showing on Thursday, February 3rd at 4pm at the Arlington Theatre. Can you duck out of work a bit early? Then get your tushie on down to the Arlington!