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Blu-ray Review: The Whistleblower

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The Whistleblower is based on the real-life story of Kathy Bolkovac, who uncovered and exposed repeated instances of UN and private police force complicity in sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia. The film stars Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, and David Strathairn.

The Movie

The Whistleblower is based on the real story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who accepts a short-term, high paying job with a Blackwater-like security company in post-war Bosnia. The job is to provide basic police protection and investigation in coordination with the UN, while the country tries to get back on its feet. As she inevitably finds out, violence and corruption are rampant, and she soon finds herself trying to tip the scales of justice back in the favor of those she sees marginalized and ignored.

It doesn’t take long, however, for her to also uncover a more damning sex trafficking operation, and one that involves the complicit help of several security and UN personnel. In an area where laws are delicate-to-breaking and money is the main thing that talks, Kathryn quickly finds out how corrupted “security” can become, and the drastic measures that can be taken to keep it and the incoming money under wraps. Sex trafficking and slave brothels are dealt with in graphic detail, so sensitive viewers should be warned.

The film proceeds in a fairly straightforward, linear fashion. We start with a bit of backstory on Kathryn and the circumstances that led her to take on the short-term assignment. After that we quickly see her learning the ropes of her job and realizing where some corners are being cut, which more and more leads her deeper into the cover-up. The film does a good job of balancing the needs of communicating the real problems of the area without resulting to Traffic-esque over-explanation. The visuals provide more than sufficient elaboration on the injustices in question. There is a tacked-on – and frankly unnecessary, other than the fact that it apparently actually happened – love story, but the film rightly breezes past this to more pressing matters.

Weisz is commanding in the lead role and manages to somehow remain forceful, vulnerable, driven, and helpless, emotions that often occur in tandem as her character’s abilities are stretched and exhausted. This is her film, and while the rest of the cast is able and effective, the focus remains fixed on her moral center and her actions. Because of this focus, some of the other characters come off as rather one-dimensional, regardless of the prestige of who delivers the lines. But Weisz commands your attention, and all of the performances still positively shape the whole of the picture.

To be sure, this is an uncomfortable film that sheds a bitter light on some unfortunate realities. The fact that it’s based on true events gives extra weight to the story, beyond what the dramatization of similar events still happening in a host of like countries could do. It’s not an enjoyable movie, but it is well made and begs caution with how some may turn over unfettered control in the name of protection or aid.

Video/Audio

The video transfer for this film cleanly carries the bleak, high-contrast and shadowed look of most of the settings. Grain comes through obviously and effectively, while colors (within the palettes used) are well matched against flesh tones. The film is mostly crisp, although several shots appear soft or with changing focus points. Some are intentional, but with some you’re not so sure, although grace should be extended given the hand-held, documentary style to many of the scenes. But the majority of the picture is commendably presented and in pristine form, free of any noticeable defects or print anomalies.

The film isn’t centered on action, necessarily, but still there are plenty of opportunities to show off its effective sound design. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track ably handles a wide soundscape, although Vanessa Redgrave’s low whispering at one point is almost imperceptible without a healthy crank on the volume. As with most dialogue-focused movies, the front speakers carry the bulk of the film. But there are still plenty of instances where more immersive elements come into play, such as most of the brothel scenes, as well as several transportation shots either in jeeps or on foot in the forest. It’s an effective audio track that often doesn’t call attention to itself but still delivers when needed.

Bonus Material

There is only one supplemental item included, a short video entitled “Kathy Bolkavac: The Real Whistleblower” (HD, 5:31). Although it includes some brief interview footage of the woman herself, as well as some of the actors and creators of the film, it’s light on substance beyond assuring audiences that the events depicted in the film are real and continue to take place.

Conclusion

The Whistleblower is a difficult movie to recommend. It’s bleak and infuriating in its depiction of events that most of us would rather pretend don’t really exist. But that’s also why it might be important to view. Sex trafficking and slavery is still alive and well in many parts of the world, and although it’s a rather sickening topic, The Whistleblower indeed delivers that message both starkly and skillfully. A recommended message film.

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About David R Perry