Friday, August 5, 2011

In THE WHISTLEBLOWER first-timer Larysa Kondracki goes for grim -- and gets it

A dark, ugly, vicious story about the exploitation of women in a section of the world not known these days for a whole lot more, THE WHISTLEBLOWER -- a new film from Canadian first-full-length filmmaker Larysa Kondracki -- goes for grim and gets it in spades. Based, I would imagine a bit loosely, on the story of an American police officer (played by Rachel Weisz) going through a divorce and in financial need who takes a job as a U.N. "peacekeeper" in post-war Bosnia, the movie is one of the most feminist I have seen in a long while. Yet it never mentions the word or pushes any verbal agenda. It shows rather than tells, and what it shows is harrowing.

The Whistleblower is not about "peacekeeping"; it is about the sex trade -- specifically, the kidnapping of young girls from Russia, The Ukraine or eastern Europe for use as sex objects. It's Taken, taken to the extreme of reality, rather than the extreme of entertainment. What happens to these girls, two of whom constitute the little story at the start of the movie, is horrible and grueling, and Ms Kondracki, shown at right, does not shy away from the worst of it. Nor does she rub our faces in things any more than the girls themselves experience them. You come away from this film (at least from the major portion of it) up to your ears, eyes and nose in shit.

Because the movie has to do with the sex trade, you might think it's going to be some kind of a turn-on. It is nothing of the sort -- unless you're a sadist. Instead, it's mostly a turn-off, all the more so because when Ms Weisz, who plays Kathryn Bolkovac (the real-life woman whose story this is), begins exploring what's going on in the "bars" that dot the Bosnian countryside, she discovers that this sex trade involves everyone from the local police to UN staff and even some of the supposed "peacekeepers." What's worse: They all have immunity from prosecution.

How all this plays out makes up the bulk of this near-two-hour movie, and much of it is handled quite well, including the unsurprising love interest provided by Nicolaj Lie Kas, who appeared in the original Brothers. (He's shown above, right, with Ms Weisz). This "affair"  is given just about the correct and relatively small amount of time necessary to make it real but not all that important. Also on hand are Vanessa Redgrave (below, who plays Kathryn's mentor) and David Strathairn as a fellow from Internal Affairs.

The movie's problems occur when Weisz starts her investigation -- and goes it totally alone (There? In Bosnia? Where practically every man on view seems like a woman's sworn enemy -- unless she's about to give him head.) OK: Let that one pass.  But toward the finale, when, in order to ratchet up suspense, Kondracki and her co-writer Eilis Kirwan offer the most tried-and-true-and-not-very-believable turn of events, you may suddenly feel betrayed by a film that had seemed deadly serious and now seems simply deadly.

For her part, Ms Weisz is very good (though her role in last year's Agora, was ten times better, as was that film), and the supporting cast, including the likes of Monica Bellucci (above) and Liam Cunningham delivers, as well, though there are finally so many characters that dot the landscape that a good actor like Benedict Cumberbatch nearly gets lost in the shuffle. The camerawork is good and gritty, however, and in all the technical departments, the film remains on track.

That the finale is so woeful seems a shame because there is so much that's so good about The Whistleblower, beginning with its subject, and the fact that this sexual slavery scenario appears to be growing rather than diminishing around the world. At the very least, the film should put the kibosh on western-world teenagers' international travel plans.

From Samuel Goldwyn Films, the movie opens today, August 5, in multiple theaters in both the New York and the Los Angeles areas. For a complete listing of venues by state, city, date and theater, simply click here.

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