Exposing UN sex and violence


The Whistleblower (MA). Director: Larysa Kondracki. Starring: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, Roxana Condurache. 107 minutes

In 2002 former Nebraska police officer and UN International Police Force monitor Kathryn Bolkovac claimed victory in an unfair dismissal case against her employer, DynCorp — a private company with a lucrative UN contract to hire and train officers for duty in post-war Bosnia.

Bolkovac's dismissal was due to her making a 'protected disclosure' (i.e. 'blowing the whistle') against alleged corruption and cover-ups among some of her peacekeeper colleagues. They, she reported, had been paying for prostitutes and participating in sex-trafficking.

The Whistleblower is Kathryn's story recast as big-screen thriller. A disclaimer at the beginning clarifies that some characters are fictional or composites of real-life people. It's a film designed to entertain and engage the viewer emotionally, rather than to inform. In this, it succeeds.

Not after it first wobbles, though. Kathryn (well played by English actress Weisz) is shown to be a conscientious cop who, following a marriage breakdown, has lost custody of her teenage daughter. Her ex-husband and his new partner are now moving interstate, daughter in tow.

Pained by the prospect of this separation, Kathryn has already tried and failed to get a transfer closer to their new home. The generous six-month contract on offer for the Bosnia job suggests another means of affording the move, albeit only following a more pronounced period of separation.

The film's perfunctory treatment of these familial and career frustrations makes Kathryn's decision to go to wartorn Bosnia seem too flippant to believe.

The Whistleblower soon steadies though. Once in Bosnia Kathryn's motivation shifts from financial compensation to compassion, and the plot gains momentum. Appalled by the lack of interest and bureaucratic inertia of her employer Democra Corps (a fictional stand-in for DynCorp) in the face of racial and domestic violence against women, she casts herself as crusader for their cause.

This proves to be merely the embryo of the greater — and more dangerous — fight for justice she is about to face. Gradually Kathryn begins to encounter evidence of colleagues' involvement with human trafficking. This is the exercise of male power over vulnerable women, writ large. Herself a woman in the midst of a boys club, and a potential threat to the sinister status quo, Kathryn, too, is vulnerable.

The faith she feels for various colleagues and associates, such as human rights lawyer Madeleine Rees (Redgrave) and Internal Affairs operative Peter Ward (Straithairn) belies the fact that, in an environment where almost everyone is hiding something, trust should be given sparingly. Indeed it also offsets the instinctive mistrust she feels for other male colleagues.

Weisz's tense and measured performance, which is the film's greatest strength, evokes the aura of justified paranoia which must beset any prospective whistleblower.

There are other wobbles. A shonky romantic subplot involving Kathryn and a fellow monitor is marked by some of the limpest scripted flirting you'll ever see. And European mega star Monica Bellucci is wooden and utterly wasted in her role as a jaded Democra Corps executive.

But there is dramatic power here, too. The emotional fulcrum is provided by teenager Raya (Condurache), a victim of the trafficking and sex slavery that become the object of Kathryn's quest for justice. We first meet her in an ominous prologue sequence; later we witness some of the worst atrocities she endures. She provides the human face of the 'issue' of human trafficking.

Most importantly, when Rya's path intersects with Kathryn's, their interactions reinforce the older woman's determination to achieve justice, while highlighting the limits of her ability to do so. In The Whistleblower, good and evil are unequal opponents, and even victory is attended by tragedy. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. He was a member of the TeleScope jury at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Film review, The Whistleblower, Bosnia, UN peacekeeping



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Existing comments

This review is not credible. If the star is employed by a private employer she is not working for the UN. The private employer may have a contract with the UN but the whistleblower is dealing with a private company. If the situation is as described then the company should certainly have lost the contract and been penalised in other ways. But the UN would have no control over the employment practices of the company. The sensational heading for the article therefore seems misleading. Perhaps there is more to explain: I have not seen the film. But as it stands the explanation has to be misleading.

John Langmore | 15 September 2011  

I am attracted to seeing this film because it is a strong female role (admired Weisz in The Constant Gardner with Ralph Fiennes).Having been in employment which is supposedly ethical and has codes of conduct to then find a lack of either I am keen to see how the scenario plays out.
I need this kind of female hero.

Julie | 25 September 2011  

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