The Whistleblower is a story of pure, real heroism. It is based on the true story of how Kathryn Bolkovac fought tooth and nail to try and prevent sex trafficking in Bosnia while she was working there as a peacekeeper in the late 1990s. A contractor to the United Nations (UN) employed her at that time and some UN staff were supporting the utterly deployable abuse of women. There were many obstacles to Bolkovac’s pursuit of justice. Those at the top of the UN saw more value in protecting the organization than doing what was right, for example, and many of the offenders had immunity. Her actions also put her in extreme personal danger. To get a sense of the real Bolkovac, see the video here. The film was based on her book, The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman's Fight for Justice, which was co-authored by Cari Lynn and published in 2011.
Genuine heroism is inspiring and The Whistleblower’s dark gritty style helps to hammer home how tough it was for Bolkovac. But the film also gives the audience a very strong sense of what it was like to be the mainly foreign victims: how they were tricked into situations and the horrifying nature of their entrapment. Be warned that there are a couple of scenes that will make especially women, I suspect, feel sick to the stomach.
Putting aside the subject matter, this is fine, rigorous filmmaking. And all the more impressive given that this was a first feature for Ukrainian/Canadian director Larysa Kondracki. (I say that, but actually I think a director’s first film is often his or her best.) Filmmaking is never easy. Never. This 43-minute video interview with Kondracki offers many great insights into the trials, tribulations and triumphs of making The Whistleblower. She says there were many false starts and that she worked on the film over a period of seven years, eventually filming it in Romania.
Three strong women
Rachel Weisz carries this film with an understated and very nuanced performance. She won an Oscar in 2006 for The Constant Gardener, but isn’t the only Oscar winner here: Vanessa Redgrave won for Julia nearly 30 years earlier and has been nominated five other times. Other stand-outs in the cast include Monica Bellucci (in the interview mentioned above, Kondracki says that Bellucci told her “I want grey hair and to be an arsehole” – she got her wish) and David Strathairn, who was nominated for an Oscar for Good Night, and Good Luck.
Relevant to now
How does a society or a culture vanquish corruption when it runs deep and how can the voices of genuine whistleblowers be heard more loudly? This film prompted those two big questions, which seem very relevant to today.
Watch the trailer below: