Monday, 22 August 2011

“Sometimes stepping back is part of the job...”

The Whistleblower: directed by Larysa Kondracki; written by Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan

The Whistleblower is a specific kind of issues-centred film, the kind of which we’ve seen in hoards over the past decade. This time the issue at the centre is human trafficking in Bosnia, a dreadful situation that Nebraskan policewoman Kathryn Bolkovac turned peacekeeper happens upon when she takes a job in post-war Bosnia. It might be post-combat, but it’s certainly not post terror as young women are being sold to soldiers, diplomats and civilians. A character puts it so succinctly – they’re whores of the war. Obviously, it’s a story that deserves to be told but Kondracki, although creating a film that’s hardly genre defining manages to avoid a number of the more obvious pitfalls that befall the genre even as the film experiences occasional missteps.
Kondracki chooses to open the film not with a nod at our heroine-to-be but with a European fireside party where two girls are contemplating taking a vaguely explained job offer. They are painted, albeit briefly, as the most standard of teenagers – unaffectedly played by Roxana Condurache and Paula Schramm with what seems like the usual accumulation of familial issues. These girls will reappear later and be a key part of our journey into the gruesome picture the film paints as Kathryn uncovers heinous activities. Weisz’s Kathryn is a bit of enigma. A few short scenes establish that she’s divorced and on the losing side of a custody battle. Part of the reason she takes the job is to accrue some funds to try the case against. The dearth of information we’re given on Kathryn on the most obvious levels is detracts from the overall narrative, but it’s really an example of Kondracki’s approach to the film. But in the same way that we learn little about, for example, Will in Planet of the Apes who is a mere vehicle for the eventual seismic revolution of apes, Kathryn’s personal issues are secondary to the battle she’s fighting.
The tale is a singular one and Kondracki does some interesting things with the less is more adage. There’s almost a tunnel vision intent with which the narrative develops with the intent of moving the investigation along. The film manages to draw on Kathryn’s own quest for investigation. And, even though, the investigation in itself is not glamorous but the film uses the basic nature of the plot to rouse up tension and drama turning the film into less of a standard biopic and more of a standard thriller. And, like the most basic of thrillers our allegiance must rest with the protagonist and Rachel Weisz does a phenomenal job of carrying the film. It’s a performance that depends less on specific scenes and more on a complete sense of immersion in character. We never really know Kathryn but she’s our window through which we tell the story and Weisz plays it just right so that at a pivotal moment where everything gets a bit too real to be only “movie-like” we’re right there with her feeling all the horror that she feels watching the objectionable. It seems like a superfluous statement, but Weisz is an actor I find inimitable because of her natural cadence and it’s that cadence which is just as significant as her actual acting skills in selling the character.

There really isn’t much for those around her to do, even as Monica Bellucci, David Straitharn and Vanessa Redgrave do good things with small categories. Of the supporting cast it’s Jeannette Haine who impresses as one of the abducted girls mother. She’s something of a dead ringer for Joan Allen and gives an astounding performance in a matter of minutes. Cinematic-wise the film really isn’t that peerless, it’s generally a quite standard exercise but Kondracki controls it all with a sense of professionalism – intent on showing the horrors, but stepping back just enough to not making it overwrought. She’s lucky enough to have Rachel at the helm, and that’s what ultimately makes this one to consider.

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