Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Whistleblower


Starring: Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Roxana Condurache, Vanessa Redgrave, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Monica Bellucci, Paula Schramm

Rated R for Disturbing Violent Content including a Brutal Sexual Assault, Graphic Nudity and Language

There is no doubt in my mind that this story needed to be told.  Sex trafficking is a very real threat, and it doesn't take a genius to make the connection between what went on in this film, which is based on a true story, and the horrors perpetrated by companies like Halliburton.  Unfortunately, the treatment isn't worthy of its subject.  A poor job in the cinematography department, a messy script and a director's unwillingness to cut anything take a powerful story and dilute its power considerably.  This is a tragic and disturbing story, but the impact of the film feels muted.

Kathryn Bolkovac (Weisz) is a cop in the U.S.  She's just been denied a transfer that would allow her to move closer to her daughter, who primarily lives with her (second) ex-husband.  Then her boss tells her of an opportunity she can't pass up: six months working as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia that will net her a cool hundred grand.  She jumps at the chance, and by actually doing her job, she nets a high-powered position working for a diplomat named Madeline Rees (Redgrave).  However, at a raid on a brothel, Kathryn comes across two young women, Raya (Condurache) and Luba (Schramm), who tell her that the villains pulling the strings are none other than the peacekeepers themselves.  The further Kathryn digs, the more she realizes that this is far bigger than she ever could have imagined.  More importantly, there are mmore people who want her to quit snooping around, and in a post-war country, it's all too easy to do so.

The performances are strong across the board.  Then again, with a cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, Liam Cunningham, and in a walk-on role, Benedict Cumberbatch, what did you expect?  Rachel Weisz is a firecracker (as usual), only this time she substitutes her usual bubbly energy for intensity.  Kathryn is one tough cookie, more than able to take charge against a group of burly men.  It's not a great performance, but that's more the fault of the writing and the direction than a lack of trying on Weisz's part.  The other established actors like Strathairn, Redgrave and a truly icy Bellucci do their part, but this is Weisz's show, and as such they cede the spotlight to her.  One performance that must be mentioned is Roxana Condurache, who's work here is very good but will be overlooked mainly because she doesn't have a lot to do other than play a battered woman.  As horrible as it is to say, her best scenes are when she's in considerable terror and pain.  There's no sense of drama in her acting in these scenes, and as such, they become brutally visceral.

Unfortunately, the film's technical qualities don't measure up.  The story is a mess because co-writer/director Larysa Kondracki insists on putting as many characters and subplots in the film as she can.  For example, in addition to seeing what Raya goes through, we also see what her mother experiences.  These scenes are adequately done, I suppose, but do they add anything we didn't already know?  Not really.  Nor do the scenes with her lover Jan (Lie Kaas), which only waste time since he's just there to remind her of the danger that she's in.  A little artistic license could have been used by letting another character, say Madeline Lees, say it.  Come to think of it, Peter Ward (Straithairn) says that.

I have to mention the film's look, and I'm not going to be saying good things.  Putting it bluntly, the film looks awful.  The idea is to present the cold, dark and threatening world of post-war Bosnia, but there's a fine line between moody atmosphere and not being able to see anything.  For half the movie it seemed, I kept thinking, "Someone turn on a damn light!"

This isn't a total misfire; the acting is strong and the story, for all its faults, is compelling.  There's also some legitimate suspense to be found here and there.  But it doesn't come anywhere near its full potential.  Putting it alongside "Lilya 4-Ever," another film about human trafficking in Central Europe, and it's really lacking.  But it's decent at least.

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