“ Genre: Crime & Thriller / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Larysa Kondracki / Actors: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas ... / DVD released 2012-01-16 at High Fliers Films / Features of the DVD: Dolby, PAL „
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- Story -
This movie documents a US cop (Kathryn Bolkovac) whos sent to post-war Bosnia to serve as a UN peace keeper, where she discovers local women are becoming victims of human trafficking - she tries to help these people, only to find that the company she works for who should protect them, have little initerest in doing so. This obviously disturbs her so she decides to investigate further but things only become more murky and it becomes clear that her meddling is not well received, to the point that her safety is in jeopardy. This movie is based on actual events.
- Thoughts & Opinions -
This is a very bleak, sobering film, not one that makes for easy viewing. Its quite harrowing and at times I found it hard to watch, however given the story, its a film that I suppose needed to be made. To think that such organisations may be, or ever did, knowingly keep such things covered up, is a scandal. The movie shows things from two points of view as it documents Kathryns journey to expose the cover up as well as showing the journey of two of the victims of Bosnian human trafficking.
The Bosnian war is referenced and its clear that the country was badly damaged by what happened many years ago. At the start and during many scenes there are subtitles present when the Bosnians (or/and Croats?) are speaking, so if your not keen on reading from subtitles then this may put you off, although it does make it seem more realistic, at least the locals don't magically speak English so that we can follow the story(!).
There are alot of issues to do with nationals, the authorities having no interest in helping victims who don't have full documentations to prove their nationality, which many people didn't, having been travelled from outside the Bosnian border illegally...this clearly being beaurocracy in action(!) its clear there's some hidden agenda from fairly early on and as the film develops, it only gets murkier.
Kathryn builds quite a strong determination to help the women trapped and to expose the scandal - she comes across as quite strong willed and while lacking the backup she needs and being quite ill educated in how to go about it, she seems quite determined and shows plenty of emotional attachment. Rachel Weisz does a solid job portraying Kathryn I feel and giving equally strong performances are Vanessa Redgrave as Madeleine, who tries to help her and David Strathairn as Peter Ward, who we can't be sure if he's on Kathryn's side or not.
There are some very tense moments between the trafficking victims and the authorities, its almost scarily realistic. Its a very tense movie in which emotions run high and it really brings home how broken society is or was in that region at that time.
Some of the dialogue is sure to infuriate most viewers, those in authority defending what went on, claiming the victims are nothing more than 'whores of war - it happens!' claims someone who works high up in the UN, for one.
The movie is clearly quite dark, both in subject matter and also equally in lighting for the majority of it, so be advised to make sure your TV screen is quite clear from reflections etc. before watching, that might help. There aren't many action scenes in terms of car chases or fancy visual effects, although the scars and injuries shown among other things do all look hauntingly realistic.
Its very tense and atmospheric and the camerawork is varied, with some shaky shots at certain points using different hiding places to film from adding to the tension somewhat, making it feel a bit grittier I suppose - there's one scene where the camera approaches Kathryn from behind while she's in the UN company building, making you wonder if someone was about to attack her and reinforcing the feeling that she's not safe, even where she should be. Also the background music and score also help to add to the very tense atmosphere throughout...towards the end, I was very engrossed in it and as the tension builds, you honestly wonder if Kathryn can make it out unscathed and who will back her and who won't. There is obviously violence, some moderate scenes are shown but there are, thankfully, no very graphic actual rape scenes and indeed this movie comes with a 15 rating and not an 18 rating, I'd imagine due to that - its grim enough as it is, I think that says it all.
The movie ends with (as is common with such based on real life events/true story movies), a black screen with white text across bringing the viewer up to speed on what happened after the events that had just been shown - the current status quo as it were and that is quite saddening to read as well, its certainly a movie that makes you think - can we really trust organisations to protect those they claim to be?.
- Would I Recommend It? -
Yes, I'd recommend this movie if the topic or plot is one that you feel intrigued by, although it won't be for everyone and isn't particularly easy viewing. The cast is decent and the movie is well filmed, its quite convincing with good performance and the use of camerawork (angles and shooting styles) as well as the background music and score help add to the tension. Knowing that this is inspired by actual events will probably make most viewers decide to tune in - I feel it was a well made movie, although its quite frustrating given what happened and it will likely make you question things but thats the point of it really, I suppose it is a movie that had to be made, if it makes you questions things, so thats good.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you found it useful. Thanks for any and all rates and comments.
Star - Rachael Weisz
Genre - Thriller
Run Time - 112 minutes
Certificate - 18R
Country - USA
Blockbuster Rental- £1.49 per night
Amazon -£3.50 DVD (£5.50 Blue Ray)
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During your training you will see that peace is harder won than war. That every mornings hope is haunted by yesterday's nightmare
Sex trafficking, like child abuse, is often kept in the family, those you trust and most loyal to as an adolescent most likely to abuse you. As kids we are told of stranger danger when all along the threat was in our homes, schools and churches, probably why those same professionals and adults told us otherwise. It's just too horrible to contemplate that the vast majority of those millions of underage images and videos on the internet are taken by parents, friends and relatives. It's the same with sex trafficking, young teenagers tricked through family members they trust to take jobs abroad that end up in the sex trade and slavery. There are more slaves and kids trapped by bonded labor on the planet today than there was at the height of the African slave trade, some 22million. The narrative of Whistleblower takes it one step further down the depravity highway, the UN and military contractors joining in the gutter trade, who just so have immunity from prosecution.
To quote the writer and first time director Larysa Kondracki here the film is a 'fictionalized account of true events', centered on the experiences of real life whistleblower Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraskan police officer who took an extremely well paid job with a civilian contractor in Bosnia just after the war to help train up the new multi ethnic Balkan police force, her DynCorp Aerospace employers (a British subsidiary of the American company DynCorp) working alongside UN Peacekeepers. But Bolkovac quickly became incensed with what she found, some of the very people sent out there to protect these women and children organizing that abuse, many of the sexually abused underage. Bolkovic would be sacked for her 'disloyalty' to the UN when she blew the whistle with all her lungs. In the co-authored book by director Kondracki and fellow writer Eilis Kirwan, 'The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors', the authors go further and claim widespread abuse across the world by UN and military peacekeepers, including the British mission in Sierra Leone, where the 'peacekeepers' of the world demanded sex from teenage refugees in exchange for food and money. United Nations Missions in Nigeria, Kosovo, Burundi, the Congo, Liberia, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Colombia, Guinea, and Sudan are also discussed in the book in extremely bad light. Now we know why the UN rarely leaves the compound and hide behind those shiny logos and tall barbed wire fences. Disgusting stuff!
Rachel Weisz ... Kathryn Bolkovac
Vanessa Redgrave ... Madeleine Rees
Monica Bellucci ... Laura Leviani
David Strathairn ... Peter Ward
Nikolaj Lie Kaas ... Jan Van Der Velde
Roxana Condurache ... Raya
Paula Schramm ... Luba
Alexandru Potocean ... Viko
William Hope ... Blakely
Rayisa Kondracki ... Irka
Jeanette Hain ... Halyna
Benedict Cumberbatch ... Nick Kaufman
David Hewlett ... Fred Murray
=== The Plot===
Kathryn Bolkovac: I don't know, but um, something fu**ed up is going on.
Un Commander: Ooh. Honey, it's like I say, this is Bosnia. These people specialize in "f**ked up!'
Attractive American cop Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) arrives in Bosnia to work for the ATCP (overseas training contractors), hitting the ground running and ready to make a difference. After a boozy welcome BBQ at the UN compound in Pristina, where she beds handsome Dutch peace keeper Jan Van Der Velde (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), she is soon getting to grips with her challenging job, seeing many ethnic scores being settled on beaten and pulped Muslim women's faces and bodies. But when some badly beaten young girls from other Eastern Block countries outside of the Balkans start coming in and she discovers there is a secret refuge full of them she realizes other sinister forces are at play here.
Two such 15-year-old Ukrainian girls, Raya (Roxana Condurache) and Lubya (Paula Schramm), have an alarming story to tell, trafficked from their homeland by family and friends and slowly revealing to the American woman that the local cops and some of the actual peacekeepers are involved in that brutal trafficking.
Eventually she earns the girls trust, Bolkovac promising to find their pimps and attackers. Bolkovac is quickly promoted up by U.N regional head Madeline Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) to run her own department for women's rights, the plan to give her more tools to catch the traffickers, impressed with Bolkovac for being the first police officer to successfully prosecute local thugs for abusing a Muslim woman, and within just two months of arriving, the only prosecution of its kind since the war ended.
The deeper she digs the deeper the corruption and some of the people she is working with attending the actual brothels, trafficked underage girls present, the local cops taking kickbacks from the mafia to keep it all quiet. And when the girls are nabbed from a DynCorp officer's car and whisked back to the brothel its clear there is leak and Bolkovac has few friends and many enemies now, the insidious violence and corruption endemic and plenty of a blind eye being turned. Her only hope now, along with Rees, is spook come internal affairs guy Peter Ward (David Strathairn), who may just have the access to help her get the girls back from almost certain death for their betrayal.
Kathryn Bolkovac: 'The United Nations was formed from the ashes of Auschwitz. The United States led the way, and it's a point of honor with me that the U.N. is not remembered for raping the very people we must protect'.
So how much of this is true to make the film so dramatic and shocking? Well to paraphrase that famous Morcambe & Wise sketch with Eric playing Andre Previn's piano rather badly - 'They are all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order'. Director, writer, Bolkovac and Weisz admit that they went out of their way to create story and drama and everything that happens in the film is true or a representation of real events. Clearly the abuse went on by UN and DynCorp employees and no doubt going on right now but a beautiful actress cast and the girls ages made palatable to keep an audience. Because most of the abuse was to girls as young as eight in Bosnia, that was deemed too much for mainstream film and so the violence is cranked up a little against the girls to substitute that sadism, at one point in the film a 15-year-old Bulgarian girl penetrated with an iron bar for attempting to escape.
Although ending up an exciting one woman's fight for justice thriller the message hits home of the ugly truth here. Rachel Weisz delivers a subtle yet riveting performance and makes the film her own, even though there are big names alongside, our Rachael very good in this type of role, as proved in the Constant Gardener and Enemy at the Gates. You actually forget how stunning she is when she does her best work. I do feel the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Monica Bellucci are only really cast here to get the film funding for the first time director on a controversial topic but Kondraki does a good job with her angry festering vision, a film and subject matter that needed the support it got. It doesn't end up a feminist film, surprisingly, and you stay with it throughout and although there are plenty of 'all men are ba**ards' moments it's a pacey and thought out movie for those who need plot and reason. There are also quite a lot of unadvertised subtitles here to negotiate.
The box office, alas, was appalling, bringing in just $1.2 million in thee years, the subject matter to visceral to draw a cinema audience, very much a movie to watch at home and so time to contemplate. But it's a solid 'ordinary people do extraordinary things' film to experience the way Erin Brokovic worked and I can recommended this to adults if you like shocking based on a true story stuff. Weisz is turning out to be cracking little actress and being married to James Bond as well can't be a bad life.
Imdb.com - 7.0/10.0 (16.730votes)
Metacrtic.com - 59% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 74% critic's approval
-Cast & Crew-
Director and cast talk about the movie and the harrowing stories behind it.
Washington Post -'A classic example of a film that doesn't trust the strength of its source material - or the intelligence of its audience'.
Toronto Star -'It reminds us that there are those, in war or in peace, who will always seek to degrade and exploit, with a precious few others to speak out against injustice'.
Scene Steelers Magazine -'As the plot devices pile up towards the end, it's a bit frustrating because there's a good movie in there somewhere'.
San Francisco Messenger -'Gradually, as her investigation deepens, and we see the true hideousness of what she is uncovering, the movie achieves urgency and clarity of purpose'.
Miami Herald -'Yes, The Whistleblower has its heart in the right place. However, that heart is bleeding a little too much'.
NY Times -'These cases rarely seem to result in change, and the stories continue. We can only guess what may be going unreported. "The Whistleblower" offers chilling evidence of why that seems to be so'.
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"We have a system that works here," says Laura Leviani (Monica Bellucci), with alarming conviction; to which Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) correctly questions, "Oh really? For who?" Leviani is the unhelpful bureaucrat at the Global Displacement Agency refusing to help a girl out since she doesn't have the correct paperwork. It's a cruel irony, since the girl was trafficked from god knows where, and her passport is held by the same men who have been holding her captive, forcing her to engage in sexual acts she never signed up for. Bolkovac is one of many American recruits working for a private military company, Democra, who witnesses shocking events in post-war Bosnia. While many turn a blind-eye, Bolkovac has been trained to do the right thing, and investigating such sick corruption is nothing but obvious to a Nebraska cop.
Her new mission is initially filled with hope and excitement, who was struggling to balance her career and family as a divorced mother of two without the privilege of custody. For a few months' work, she is guaranteed tax-free 100,000 dollars, an opportunity she cannot afford to turn down. Her job consists of overseeing the rebuild of the war-torn country, where the civilians still struggle with racial and gender inequalities. Meanwhile, girls from neighbouring countries are being transported into Bosnia under false assurance. They are promised jobs - but instead they are trapped in disgusting rooms full of used condoms, drug needles, some questionable-looking mattresses, metal chains, and some urine pots. Ruled by fear and guns wielded by owners who aren't afraid to use them to protect their profits, the girls have no choice but to obey. Many of these girls are under-age, but the clients aren't too bothered about that. All they focus on is sex, and somehow asserting their masculinity by abusing these helpless girls.
And what a range of clients these girls are visited by. As Bolkovac slowly starts uncovering the disturbing truth, she realises how naïve she had been all along. She initially pin-points one person, a fellow employee of Democra whose sleezy, care-free and dismissive attitude doesn't sit well with the lone crusader. But she has failed to see the full picture. It's the local police, the international police task force (IPTF), high-level diplomats, employees of the United Nations, a lot whom can get away with all sorts of crime since they enjoy the benefit of hiding behind diplomatic immunity. "Immunity, not impunity" reminds Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave), a human rights advocate, and one of the very few people willing to help Bolkovac do her job. Worse, these people are not just hiring these girls for their pleasure, but seem to have an active part in actually bringing the girls in from various countries and flat-out deceiving them. Many of them with ties to the United Nations, a global charitable organisation so powerful and dominant that no-one can ever get near.
Bolkovac is far from perfect, and the film is not afraid to show us that she is in way over her head trying to tackle the world's biggest, most respected organisation. The one thing she knows to do for sure is to distinguish right from wrong. Rape, is wrong. Human trafficking, is wrong. Kidnapping and entrapment, are wrong. Shame, because she is the only one thinking with her head here. So she is naturally frustrated when people of the law and human rights prevent her from doing the right thing. Weisz, in one of her strongest, most unforgettable performances, is masterful in balancing the many complex emotions of her character as she is put through many obstacles. Compassion and anger are what drive the heroine, the former for the abused girls, and the latter towards the high-power officials arrogant and corrupt enough to believe they have what it takes to slip away without facing the appropriate consequences. She is quiet yet intense, and there isn't a hint of over-acting here, despite the subject material.
Yes, this is a somewhat fictional film, inspired true events, but many of its facts are based on the controversies surrounding the American company DynCorp, whose unlawful and unethical practices came under fire in 2002. Bolkovac (a woman who really does exist) saw illegal practices, reported them as such, and got fired because of it. DynCorp is still one of the largest private military companies funded by the States, and its operations all over the world, particularly in the Middle East, brings them billions of dollars in profits. Is the plot manipulative? Hardly, this is what actually happened. And being such a character-driven drama that this is, "The Whistleblower" walks that fine line of addressing the important key issues with confidence and passion, all the while not succumbing to too much preachy, calculating, self-righteous tone. It has a gentle, well-balanced mix of drama and thriller, in which neither aspect is overplayed.
Whilst it is mostly Weisz at the centre of this gripping material, strong supporting actors also lend their hand in completing a well-rounded cast. Redgrave, with her iconic warm yet stern voice and demeanour provides excellent assistance, arousing sympathy from the audience with her ever-so convincing looks of compassion, and she brings with her a trusted friend, Peter Ward (David Strathairn), an internal affairs officer who turns out to be one of Bolkovac's very few allies. Two veteran, accomplished actors, both with noticeably smaller roles than Weisz's, shine nonetheless in what precious little screen time they have.
Sometimes, there is a little too much going on, with too many characters and plot strands for the director to handle. We watch Bolkovac carry out her investigation almost single-handedly, we closely follow the victims and their troubled lives, there's the politics to consider, and sometimes the purposefully dim lighting goes annoyingly too far - so much so that it can be difficult to distinguish between the vast number of similar looking villains and victims. But a little convolution never hurts a conspiracy thriller. What sets "The Whistleblower" apart from similar themed films is how personal and sensitive the film's narrative is. Bolkovac travels alone, mostly in the dark, risking her life in order to finish what she rightfully started. She is out in the open, and in the volatile region she finds herself in, anything can happen. By using her vulnerability, it reels you in, and is more than effective in setting up a cruel, menacing atmosphere of the real world. This may not rank with the year's best films, but is certainly one of the most important. It's a much-needed wake-up call for us all, reminding us of the world we live in.