MOVIE REVIEW: The Whistleblower
What exactly is the role of the film director? The answer to this question remains subjective and depends on an artist’s particular ambition or story’s relative size. Alfred Hitchcock famously demanded (and received) total artistic control over his many Hollywood projects. Some filmmakers like Penny Marshall take a more specified role on set (she handled the direction of actors on A League of Their Own, leaving the visual style up to her director of photography). Different artists, different strokes. However, the director’s core job is to shape the material in a cinematic way, invigorating the story through the manipulation of film language. When a director fails to achieve this primary goal, the dramatic results are usually scattered, messy, and inert.
Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower is a prime example of a film undermined by its lackluster direction. Co-written by Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan and inspired by true events during the United Nations post-war reconstruction of Bosnia in the 1990s, The Whistleblower has plenty of potential as a gripping and tense police procedural with deep political ramifications. An American law-enforcement officer named Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) takes a high-paying job as a U.N. peacekeeper in war ravaged Bosnia, only to discover a culture of corruption, greed, and murder, much of which is perpetrated by her American and European compatriots. Quickly, Kathryn becomes embroiled in the deadly world of international sex trafficking, attempting to circumvent a broken political system to help save the lives of young girl’s being maliciously held against their will.
As both a dramatic thriller and character study,The Whistleblower drags its feet from the very beginning. Kathryn is the typical lone wolf cop who puts the job above everything else, leaving her crumbling family behind for a chance at economic stability. This provides the necessary context for her role as an isolated martyr and whistleblower, but it also gives her a moral superiority over the rest of the cast made up mostly of villainous bureaucrats and thuggish brutes. Simplistic notions of good and evil dominate this world despite stabs at complexity between Kathryn and a Dutch love interest.
Kathryn maneuvers the rain-drenched streets and blown-out dwellings of Bosnia like a tortured heroine from a neo-noir, rigorously pursuing the clues despite being subverted at every turn. Her earnest, unflinching pursuit for justice is refreshing, but Kondracki fails to construct an interesting visual aesthetic for Kathryn’s growing internal conflicts. Kondracki remains content with the surface meaning of each shot, allowing dead-on dialogue to explain dramatic beats without nuance or subtext.Blues, grays, and browns meld together in flat compositions, while camera movement and musical cues are continuously mismatched with the tone of specific scenes. What you see is exactly what you get inThe Whistleblower, no more and no less.
Still, something must be said for Rachel Weisz’s determined and brave performance. At the center of every scene, Weisz has the difficult job of making a dry genre world seem tragic and redemptive. That Weisz emerges from The Whistleblower relatively unscathed is a testament to her acting chops and ability to transcend cliché. One scene in particular stands out: immediately after police raid the seedy bar of a suspected trafficker, Kathryn moves through the dimly lit space quietly discovering evidence of a torture chamber and chain-linked cells. Without overreaching, Weisz’s wonderfully expressive eyes tell us all we need to know about the horrors beyond the frame. This intriguing sequence hints at the film The Whistleblower could have been. But the film's multiple failures only prove that if film directing were easy, everyone would be calling "action."