Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: The Whistleblower

The roughest of the many rough scenes in The Whistleblower takes place in the dungeon-like back room of a Bosnian sex traffickers' bar, where trafficked women are forced to watch as one of their number, who took the chance of talking to UN authorities and wound up recaptured, is viciously assaulted as an example to the others.

I mention this off the top because The Whistleblower is based on a true story, and that, combined with how rough it gets, may challenge some viewers' capacity to handle the movie. Those who can, and who are patient with a slow build, will find it a gripping and harsh look at a terrifying world, not unlike a particularly uncompromising episode of Law & Order: SVU.

Like other fictionalized versions of true stories, I have to guess that The Whistleblower would seem less striking to viewers who know the ins and outs of the true story. I'd never even heard of Kathryn Bolkovac, though, which meant I was soon absorbed—wondering exactly how the titular whistle would be blown (and by the way, um, spoiler alert, movie?) and at what cost. Throughout, the plot points remain realistic enough that you come away from this movie feeling like Taken just never should have even been made. (Though Taken is, admittedly, more fun.)

A dynamite cast helps a lot, and earns The Whistleblower at least a full star in my score. Notable names among the supporting cast include Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn, but it's Rachel Weisz as the lead who gets the most to do. Her performance is grounded and real, and while the deeply evil goings-on overshadow the human players a bit, the grim setting doesn't completely instill a sense of oppression and dull hopelessness, thanks largely to Weisz.

But wait, there's more: William Hope (Lt. Gorman from Aliens and the guy who gets killed in the second Hellraiser) is also on hand, playing a total bastard, which he should do more often. Additional fun geek surprises included Liam Cunningham (the guy who works for Stannis Baratheon on Game of Thrones) and Benedict Cumberbatch—both of whom do decent fake American accents, though they both lapse once or twice.

Speaking of accents, the various Balkan characters' accents are sometimes heavy enough that you'll probably want subtitles—which, on Netflix Instant, don't seem to be much more reliable than most other subtitles. Wouldn't it be nice if subtitles, you know, worked? They have ONE JOB.

The first forty minutes or so of The Whistleblower move somewhat slowly, but the setup is necessary and handled well enough to not seem too Hollywood. I'm not going to count it against the movie at all, really, since it's not like the running time is that long (although the content is so wrenching at times that it ends up feeling pretty long). Likewise, it doesn't go overboard trying to move us to the edge of our seats; the handful of moments where you might end up in that general chair-vicinity feel organic and unforced, and the rest of the time, I for one ranged from fascinated to at least curious.

The only significant criticism I have of The Whistleblower is its overuse of the handheld camera. The screen is often way too shaky at the wrong times; it would've been unpleasant to see this in the theater. Luckily, there aren't car chases or parkour sequences, because if there had been, they'd have likely been even more shaky. My hope is that we're pretty much out of the era where that style is trendy.

I would classify The Whistleblower alongside The Killing Fields as one of those films to watch when you need some perspective on what aspects of humanity are really awful versus just irritating. Not for the first time, I found myself wondering if the issue with human civilization isn't so much that all of us, everywhere, are savages who need to be governed, but more that men become savages when they spend time in a lawless land, and the presence of women in positions of any kind of power (even domestic) serves as a necessary governing influence. If there are historical examples to counter that hypothesis—of Women Behaving Badly Enough to Keep Up with These Guys—I've never heard of them, and I'm a little bit of a history geek.

Star Score: 3.5 out of 5

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