There’s a moment in The Whistleblower when a man of power and position, a representative of an organization that’s supposed to be on the side of “right,” refers to trafficked teenage girls as “whores of war.” This tells you all you need to know about what Nebraska cop-turned-U.N. peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is up against in postwar Bosnia, circa 1999.
There’s a backstory explaining how the real-life Bolkovac ended up in the Balkans—working first for one of those multinational private security firms on hand in every post-Cold War hot zone, and then the United Nations—but what’s interesting is how serious she is. Unlike most of the men around her, she’s dedicated to the mission. When Bolkovac starts coming across scores of trafficked teenagers forced into sexual slavery, she takes it seriously.
It’s a brutal story, told with a compassionate if unblinking eye. Weisz is marvelous as the whistleblower; she radiates toughness and intelligence. Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn all provide noteworthy cameos.
The Whistleblower is Canadian filmmaker Larysa Kondracki’s first feature, and it shows. She has so much she wants to tell that, at some points, it all becomes a jumble; you don’t know where the film is going, or why. (Kondracki also exhibits an unhealthy enthusiasm for using shaky shots and smeary images as a kind of shorthand.) This passion ultimately saves the film, however, because Kondracki is rightly focused on the fact that, in the end, what happens to those trafficked young women is the real story.