The Whistleblower—inspired by the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac—follows Nebraskan cop Rachel Weisz as she takes a contract as a UN International Police Force monitor in Bosnia. It’s a difficult, taxing job, but she’s good at it—so good, she discovers that many of her colleagues don’t merely frequent the local brothels, they participate in the human trafficking that landed the girls there in sexual slavery. The raw stuff of Bolkovac’s experiences is incendiary, offering unforgettable imagery of young women kept in subhuman conditions and treated like chattel, beaten, drugged, and in one particularly hard-to-watch scene, brutally murdered after acting out. But as a film, Larysa Kondracki’s feature debut doesn’t trust its audience to know how to handle this material without the frame of its own uncurious investigative angle. Kondracki offers a glimpse of a monstrous world—made worse because some of the monsters in it were sent there to protect people—but doesn’t suggest any nuanced understanding of it.
Weisz is impressive as Bolkovac, though she isn’t an instinctive choice to play a twice-divorced Midwestern mom deeply attached to her career in law enforcement. She’s also twice an outsider in the IPF, new to the job and one of the few women there—her romance with a Dutch coworker (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is the brief interlude in which her character is given room to show qualities other than “dogged and compassionate.” But Weisz is the film’s window into this hellish underground economy, and also its limitation. Most of the local police seem in on the scheme, and eventually, so do most of the IFP members with which she works. They’re either leering, overt villains or smiling, condescending ones. The uncomplicated evilness of an institution, members of which include familiar TV faces like David Hewlett and Benedict Cumberbatch, is an appalling simplification. There’s no hint of the erosion of morality that led to this point, nor of any hesitations among the conspirators. Weisz and the hovering angels of the more senior officials played by Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn are the only ones who’ve retained consciences in this recovering war zone.
The Whistleblower’s loose camerawork and cool tones sometimes recall Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, but without his control or unwillingness to strip away his characters’ humanity. It takes an anticlimactic, all-too-honest ending to serve as a stinging reminder that in the real world, justice doesn’t come easy, and sometimes doesn’t come at all.