To the short list of this year’s must-see movies, quickly add The Whistleblower—the harrowing true story of Kathy Bolkovac, a disillusioned Nebraska cop and divorced single mother who uncovered a horrifying underground network of human slave traffic in 1999 postwar Bosnia protected by both the American military and high-ranking officials of the United Nations who were immune to prosecution. The movie is about her near-death experiences trying to expose this vast conspiracy, and how the U.S. government tried to discredit and silence her. It’s a brutally frank, shocking and illuminating film about the abuse of power that will leave you shaking.
Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz stars as the tough but humane former law enforcer who takes a well-paid, $100,000 tax-free job with a private contractor called Democra Security to man a U.N. peacekeeping mission as part of an international task force to monitor wrongdoing in the world’s trouble spots. It seems like good money for a worthwhile assignment that will earn her enough to fight for the daughter she lost in her spiteful ex-husband’s custody case.
Arriving in Bosnia, she quickly rises through the ranks because of her practical policing skills and liberal politics and is recruited to run the U.N.’s Gender Office, a division that investigates sexual assaults, domestic abuses and sex trafficking. It doesn’t take long before her job leads to two Ukrainian girls who have been kidnapped, drugged and forced into a Bosnian brothel. The girl who agrees to testify against her abductors and the U.N. workers who torture her ends up murdered, driving Kathy to open up an investigation to expose human rights crimes against women. In the course of her work, she uncovers a secret underground network of girls stolen from their own countries, whipped into submission and addicted to heroin, and U.S. soldiers who exploit them for profit. She is backed with the full authority of diplomat Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave), head of the Human Rights Commission, but her evidence—of brothel owners who paid off the U.S. military with protection money and international employees shielded from prosecution by privilege and diplomatic immunity—is blocked by both her bosses and the U.N. itself, which tries to buy her off (a scandal would lose the U.S. billions in government contracts with Bosnia).
Kathy took the job to save victims of inhumanity but discovers unspeakable crimes she can’t expose. The only way out is to steal her own case files in a daring escape, aided by a sympathetic colleague (David Straithairn), after which she publicly blows the whistle in the media on the corruption and complicity of the U.N. and U.S. State Department. The unbelievable upshot is that even after her revelation captures world press attention and she wins her case, the same diplomatic-immunity laws prevent anyone from being charged.
With her sweet face masking a steely determination, Rachel Weisz is superb as the single voice of conscience who finds herself in over her head in the wilderness of international diplomatic intrigue. It’s an unmistakable thriller, but she brings it to the level of character study. Her Kathy is noble but screwed up, which makes her instantly likeable and extraordinary. Her tenacity and refusal to give up even when friends and colleagues she trusted look the other way makes her character someone to root for. It’s rare to see a thriller with the patience to tell an important story and develop a three-dimensional character at the same time. Directed with sophistication by Larysa Kondracki, who wrote the incendiary, issue-oriented screenplay with Eilis Kirwan, The Whistleblower is a grisly, authentic, meticulously researched, pulse-quickening political chiller about a hot-button topic that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
Running time 118 minutes
Written by Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan
Directed by Larysa Kondracki
Starring Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, David Straithairn