Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 1, 2012)
Though 2011’s The Whistleblower received a limited release – and never appeared on more than 70 screens in the US – that beats many “direct to video” projects. Does it disqualify Whistleblower from the “direct to video” designation? I guess, but barely; 70 screens and a US gross just a smidgen over $1 million means the film reached a small audience.
As always with efforts like this, the question becomes whether or not the flick deserved to find a bigger following. Whistleblower takes us to the Balkans circa 1999. Police officer Kathy Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) accepts a high-paid six-month gig as a “peace keeper” in Bosnia, where the country goes through a rough road from war to peace.
Due to her interest in social justice, Kathy gets the job as the head of the “Gender Affairs” office. Along the way, she discovers a thriving sex-trafficking underworld – and an official culture that happily allows it to occur as long as those authorities get paid. Kathy strives to overcome the obstacles, expose the corruption and save as many girls as she can.
Would it be a mistake to call this film “Erin Brockovich in Bosnia”? Maybe, as the two flicks have quite a few differences, but damn if that’s not the impression I get. Whistleblower falls into the “lone crusader” genre, one in which the lead character works hard to bring down a sleazy system.
Brockovich overcame its potentially stale subject matter due to some manipulative but still deft direction from Steven Soderbergh. Unfortunately, he’s nowhere to be found here, and Whistleblower director Larysa Kondracki can’t do much to bring life to the tale.
Instead, Kondracki makes everything really, really urgent. She seems to have no faith in the inherent drama of the tale, so we get non-stop score, hyperactive camerawork and a generally overwrought sensibility. Even the usually strong Weisz pours on the emotion – and a pretty awful stab at a Midwest accent.
Rather than give the material the heft and impact it deserves, these techniques largely undercut the natural power of the tale. We don’t feel caught up in the story and invested in the characters. Instead, we become worn out by all the theatrics and wind up tuning out much of the material.
Which seems like a shame, as I think the subject matter deserves attention. Buried beneath all the filmmaking hysterics, there’s a quality story that could be told.
But this movie just doesn’t deliver it in a satisfying manner. In addition to the overwhelming filmmaking techniques, the project has a “been there, done that” sense. It turns into a pretty standard thriller that can’t make the subject matter stand out as unique, and it suffers from a boilerplate feel; I sometimes got the impression the filmmakers had a little checklist they followed to determine where things should go.
This means Whistleblower leaves me cold. It lacks the emotional punch it needs, as its overdone nature robs it of its natural power. That’s too bad, as the flick could’ve been emotional and involving, but as it stands, it’s a lackluster thriller without much to make it thrive.