Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Whistleblower’

'Divides its time equally between tugging at your heartstrings and stimulating your gag reflex...'

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby

If you’re a fan of the Lifetime Movie Network’s Human Trafficking miniseries from a couple years back and are feeling hungry for even more harrowing melodrama about outraged ministers of justice staring unflinchingly into the black, gaping abyss of unspeakable human degradation, then January is your lucky month, because 20th Century Fox has just released a Blu-ray of its recent, based-on-a-true-story sex trafficking caper, The Whistleblower. The film’s source material has its merits, and it’s definitely not boring, but its oversimplified tone reduces it to a one-dimensional exercise in promoting political dialogue, dividing its time equally between tugging at your heartstrings and stimulating your gag reflex, and occasionally cranking it down a notch to accommodate a smooth didactic soliloquy or two.

The Whistleblower takes place in Bosnia, where police officer Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) has been temporarily transplanted to serve as part of an international peacekeeping unit. Initially, Bolkovac’s main objective is to score enough cash to pay off her mortgage before returning to the U.S., but after a few successful scuffles with local authorities over uncouth policies regarding domestic violence and gender brutality in the region, Bolkovac is singled out by a high-ranking UN official (Vanessa Redgrave) and offered a permanent diplomatic position.

Once upgraded, Bolkovac is shocked to discover that many of her male colleagues are frequent patrons of local sex slavery establishments, receiving payoffs and freebies from pimps and club owners in exchange for feigned institutional ignorance. Worst of all, Bolkovac is powerless to prosecute the offending officers – as employees of the U.N., her co-workers are protected by diplomatic immunity, which means that even if their behavior is technically criminal, they can’t be arrested for it, and their exposure would only cause a political scandal. Seemingly with the entire international community working against her, Bolkovac struggles to form alliances with humanitarian sympathizers and victims of sex trafficking in an effort to clamp down on the local sex trade and expose the corrupt government officials responsible for facilitating it.

Despite its incendiary themes, Whistleblower is basically a political action thriller, so some degree of detached stylization is tolerable and expected. The film was obviously made to call attention to the very real, and extremely f*cked-up phenomenon of UN employees and other people in positions of International authority exploiting diplomatic immunity to tacitly endorse rape and sex trafficking. But the film’s humanitarian agenda and the hollowness of its approach work to undermine each other, and the result feels too much like a melodramatic PSA to really make an optimal impact. Every character is either a selfless human rights advocate or a corrupt and violent misogynist, and the brush strokes conveying those distinctions are so broad that the villains might as well just have devil horns and goatees Photoshopped onto their faces. Moral simplicity is hardly an automatic deal breaker in movies like this, but considering how current the source material is, the juxtaposition feels somewhat tacky. Aside from Weisz, Whistleblower has a great cast – Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn both play sympathetic government officials, while Monica Bellucci plays a creepy, unsympathetic one – but the characterization is so flat and crudely polarized that nobody gets an opportunity to really excel.

The disc is mysteriously devoid of special features, aside from one obligatory behind-the-scenes doc, which the cover box tricks you into thinking is a short documentary about the actual incidents that inspired the film. The real Kathryn Bolkovac appears only fleetingly in the featurette, mostly so she can talk about what a great person and wonderful actress Rachel Weisz is. Technical specs for the film itself are unremarkable, but fine – the transfer looks a little dark in places, but it’s mostly acceptable.

Although the superficial treatment is disappointing, The Whistleblower’s subject is certainly worthy of attention, and in terms of dramatic structure, the film is mediocre but not unwatchable. The cheesiness of the approach and the underutilization of an exciting cast, however, both detract from the film’s creative legitimacy, as well as its entertainment value.

CraveOnline Rating (Film): 5/10

CraveOnline Rating (Blu-Ray): 4.5/10