The Whistleblower


The Whistleblower

Sometimes the peacekeepers aren't so blessed.

(2010) True-Life Drama (Goldwyn) Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Roxana Condurache, Paula Schramm, Alexandru Potocean, William Hope, Rayissa Kondracki, Jeanette Hain, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Hewlett. Directed by Larysa Kondracki

In the course of our working day, we often see things that we find repugnant. Most of the time, we just let things slide. After all, why get yourself into a tizzy over things you can’t change? Once in awhile however, we run across things that we just can’t leave alone. We have to put a stop to something that is heinous.

Kathy Bolkovac (Weisz) is a hard-working police officer in Nebraska. She is recently divorced and her husband has been awarded custody of her daughter. He is now moving to Georgia for a new job and Kathy is doing her level best to find work down there but hasn’t been able to as of yet. Her commanding officer tells her about the potential of making $100K working as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia after the end of the Bosnian civil war.

This will enable Kathy to eventually move to Georgia when she finishes her six-month tour. She agrees and is given a position with the security contractor Democra and before long she helps train the Bosnian police in successfully prosecuting the first case of domestic abuse since the war ended. It’s a difficult job at best, given the still-simmering mistrust between ethnic groups and the attitude towards women in general in the region, but she perseveres and gets her conviction. This brings her to the attention to UN official Madeleine Rees (Redgrave) who installs her in charge of the Office of Gender Affairs, there to investigate crimes against women.

 Boy, does she find one. A ring of human traffickers are bringing women into Bosnia to serve in forced prostitution, particularly in the case of 15-year-old Ukrainian Raya (Condurache) and her friend Luba (Schramm) who were sold to human traffickers by her own uncle. When Raya is discovered beaten to the point of near-unconsciousness, Kathy investigates the incident and is shocked to discover that not only were the Bosnian police complicit in the affair but so is the United Nations and high-ranking diplomats and military personnel. Kathy will have to battle apathy and indifference in a bureaucratic nightmare that has some powerful forces arrayed against her, and the health, welfare and very lives of innocent young women in the balance.

This is based on an actual case and yes, Kathy Bolkovac is a real person. She worked for the real life company DynCorp which Democra substitutes for here. More on that in a minute.

This is an unflinching look at what is one of the fastest-rising crimes in the world. Human trafficking is at an all-time high and shows no signs of slowing down. Director Kondracki is obviously passionate about the subject and that passion is reflected in Weisz who gives Bolkovac a simmering, dogged personality. Not knowing much about the real Kathy Bolkovac, I can’t say whether that’s accurate or not but I can say that it fits the needs of the character in this movie nicely. Weisz as an actress can be extraordinary when given the right role. This isn’t her very best work but it’s darn near.

She is aided by an excellent supporting cast including Redgrave, regal and majestic as the UN official and Strathairn, as an internal affairs officer at Democra who helps Kathy in her investigation. Kaas plays a Dutch member of the international Democra peacekeeping team who enters into a romantic relationship with Kathy as well as a professional one.

The movie’s dark tone is underscored by the dark cinematography which occasionally descends into murkiness. There are scenes where it is difficult to ferret out what’s going on. A few more lights might not have been a bad idea here. Also, it feels like major plot points have been edited out or skipped over. I don’t mind reading between the lines in a movie, but this one needed a few more that would have helped explain some of the goings-on.

In real life, the investigation cost Bolkovac her job, forcing her to sue DynCorp in the British courts. DynCorp fired seven people (including Bolkovac) and reassigned several more but to date the company has never paid any restitution for its role in the incident. Personally, I find this sort of injustice infuriating; at the very least they should have been find and personally I think they should have lost every government contract they have. Not so much because their employees committed crimes under their aegis, but because they complicitly supported them by protecting them and impeding the real-life investigation of Bolkovac. To my mind, that’s unconscionable.

This could well have been an important movie and still might be. I don’t remember a movie dealing with the human trafficking subject that was this stark and this realistic. For once you get an idea of the degradations and horrors that these girls go through and the sexual slavery aspect isn’t just there for titillation. That The Whistleblower is based on actual events makes this as terrifying as any horror movie hitting the October release schedule.

REASONS TO GO: A terrifying view at a subject rarely tackled by films and never with this level of realism. Weisz, Redgrave, Strathairn and Kaas give raw performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many blanks left for the viewer to fill in. The cinematography is often murky.

FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, much of it of a sexual nature including one particularly brutal sexual assault. The language is rough as well and as you might expect, there’s plenty of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was mostly shot in Romania. Weisz had originally been approached to play the role in 2005 but turned it down due to her pregnancy. When she discovered the movie’s production had stalled, she accepted the role and consequently the movie was made.

HOME OR THEATER: I’d say see this in a theater; it might be easier to make out some of the images on a bigger screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: You Again

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The Hunting Party


Gere and Howard should have rented from Hertz instead.

Gere and Howard should have rented from Hertz instead.

(Weinstein) Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg, James Brolin, Diane Kruger, Joy Bryant, Ljubomir Kerekes, Kristina Krepela. Directed by Richard Shepard.

There is a certain cache about being a war correspondent. The image of them is being adrenaline junkie thrill-seeking hard-drinking cynics have been perpetuated by the movies and to a large extent, by the media itself. However, what you don’t see on the other side of the camera is only half the story, and not the better half.

Simon Hunt (Gere) is a network reporter who in his life has moved from one war zone to the next, accompanied by his faithful cameraman Duck (Howard). When they reach Bosnia, the atrocities they have been inured to in other conflicts seem to hit home a little bit more, particularly for Simon. After a massacre in a small town perpetrated by a Serbian general nicknamed The Fox (Kerekes), Hunt has a full-on on-air meltdown, leading to his being fired and disgraced.

The intervening years are not kind to Hunt. He goes from one correspondence job to another, each at progressively smaller, less important agencies until he disappears off the radar completely. He exists mainly as a cautionary tale told in journalism schools. For Duck, however, his fortunes improve dramatically. He is promoted and works in a cushy network environment, the top of the food chain for network news cameramen. The deprivations of war are long behind him, almost as if they happened to a different man. He’s even got a sexy girlfriend (Bryant) waiting for him in Greece for a decadent, hedonistic vacation.

First, however he must return to Bosnia to celebrate the fifth year since the end of the civil war there. Network anchor Franklin Harris (Brolin) is doing a report from there to mark the occasion, and Duck is as always behind the camera. Along for the ride is rookie reporter Benjamin Strauss (Eisenberg) who is mainly there because his father is an executive vice-president at the network.

The last person Duck is literally expecting to see is Simon, but there he is. Furthermore, he has a major scoop, a game changer – one that will admit him back into the limelight. However, it is a difficult and dangerous story. The Fox remains at large, one of the war criminals not yet apprehended by the United Nations. Simon claims to know the location of the Fox and thinks he can get an interview. Duck is a bit uncertain but the prospect of the kind of story that would be a career highlight is too much to pass up. Strauss, eager to prove himself, tags along much to the disgust of Simon.

The danger lies in that the Fox is a national hero to the Serbs, and is well protected by maniacal bodyguards and fanatical villagers. The trio must get past U.N. bureaucrats, height-challenged black marketers, homicidal waiters and their own mutual mistrust – and once they find their target, what is Simon really after?

Loosely – verrrrrrrrrrrrry loosely – based on actual events (the reporters involved in the true life story are briefly viewed in a barroom scene), there is a feeling that this is a bit too Hollywood, a bit too cliché to be true. While the real reporters were print journalists (and included Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and Scott Anderson who penned the Esquire article that inspired the screenwriters), this is meant to be…well, I’m not sure. Partially it’s an indictment of the reluctance of the authorities in the Bosnian region to bring war criminals to justice, but also it seems to be a potshot at the media as well.

The problem here is that the media seems to be more a caricature of our existing preconceptions of who reports the news rather than actual characters. Having worked in the print journalism field and having known more than a few reporters in my time, I can safely say that not every reporter is a hard-drinking cynical Type-A personality as we’ve seen in movies like The Year of Living Dangerously. While the explanation for Simon’s meltdown does humanize him somewhat, you can be quite sure that no news reporter is going to put their cameraman into the line of fire as a joke.

That said, there are some nice performances here. Howard has become in a very short time one of the more reliable actors in Hollywood. Going back to Crash I can’t think of a single lackluster performance the man has given (although to be honest I haven’t seen The Fighter yet). Gere does his best with a severely flawed character, and Eisenberg does his best Michael Cera impression, as always.

Definitely, don’t look on this as an accurate representation of news reporting. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, the film takes a left turn when we find out what Simon’s real mission is and quite frankly, it doesn’t jive with the rest of the film. I think it would have worked a hell of a lot better if they had been seeking an interview with The Fox all along. However, they misfire with a truly awful ending that in an attempt to be satisfying ends up being the complete opposite.

There are some good things about the movie. It is beautifully shot and the subject matter would have been interesting if handled correctly. I can marginally recommend it based on that and the performances. However, be warned that this is a seriously flawed movie – and take it with a grain of salt, or better still a whole shaker of the stuff.

WHY RENT THIS: Howard performs nicely and the European locations are authentic and beautiful. The premise is at least interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A truly awful ending torpedoes the interesting premise, as does their cliché characterization of the entire television journalism field.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing shots of war atrocities and a goodly amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The movie was mostly filmed in Croatia.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: 9