It's really remarkable sometimes, how well-meaning filmmakers will tackle atrocious real-life events and turn them into formulaic Hollywood-style thrillers. A case in point is The Whistleblower, a film "inspired by actual events" that tells the story of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police investigator who takes a job with a private contractor in post-war Bosnia and discovers evidence of international aid workers and U.N. officials participating in sex trafficking. This much is true.
But in Larysa Kondracki's overheated-to-boiling melodrama, Bolkovac's role has been inflated. The real Bolkovac was sent to the region specifically to investigate the sex trade, but the movie's Bolkovac is a naïf who only takes the job so she can make enough money to move closer to her daughter. Where the real Bolkovac seems to have begun and ended her involvement in the region as an employee of a private security firm, the film's Bolkovac, played by a clenched-jawed Rachel Weisz, attracts the attention of a righteous local United Nations honcho (played by Vanessa Redgrave, of course) and is swiftly promoted into a U.N. position ("Head of Gender Affairs"), which empowers her to walk into crime scenes and interrogations and bark orders at everyone, thus becoming the big thorn in the side of the complacent, corrupt international establishment in the region.
The barest facts are bad enough. After discovering that some her cocky male co-workers have unsavory after-hours predilections, Bolkovac happens upon a pair of terrified girls from Eastern Europe who have been sucked into a nightmare with no easy escape: They're in a war zone and their papers have been seized by their captors, thus complicating their legal status. Worse, the perpetrators are above prosecution because of their diplomatic immunity.
But instead of sticking to the facts, Kondracki and her co-writer Eilis Kirwan, contrive the most hackneyed thriller they can achieve. One can almost see them saying, "OK, this is the scene where Bolkovac makes a promise to the girls we know she can't keep," and "Now we need a scene where she realizes the corruption goes to the top," and "Now we need to make the music louder as she sneaks into an office to steal top-secret files!"
What's disturbing about the film is that it reinforces the myth of the morally upright American who's innocent of the ways of the corrupt, sickly old world. "This is bullshit," Bolkovac shouts at a sniveling, do-nothing Italian NGO officer.
"We have a system that works," the official replies haughtily.
"Oh, really," Bolkovac snarls, with the same ill-informed self-righteousness that was so characteristic of George W. Bush as he led his country into a military quagmire.
Better movies about the modern trafficking of women include David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, Lukas Moodysson's harrowing Lilya 4-Ever and even the second season of The Wire. The Whistleblower, on the other hand, is obvious and forgettable.