20 September 2011

The Whistleblower

Based on a true account, The Whistleblower is the story of a Nebraska police officer, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), who takes a short-term job with a security firm to act as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Soon after she arrives, she helps a local Muslim woman take her claims of domestic violence by her husband before a judge, something that had never been done before. This brings Kathryn to the attention of Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) who invites her to work with the Women’s Right and Gender Unit at the United Nations. Kathryn soon uncovers a sex trafficking operation with deep ties to the security firm and the UN itself. When she realizes that the peacekeepers are doing anything but protecting the innocent and that the officials are unwilling to do anything about it, she becomes a whistleblower and outs the people involved.

Director Larysa Kondracki wants the audience to understand the horror of sex trafficking, and the brutality that these women encounter is brought home in the film. Young women, most from the former Soviet Union, are lured away from home with promises of jobs working in hotels. Once they cross the border, their passports are taken away, and they are forced to work off their “debt” in clubs that are nothing more than brothels where they are subjected to rape and horrific physical abuse and treated worse than animals. One of the story lines in the film focuses on what happens to one Ukranian girl in particular and the devastated mother she leaves behind. Her story will bring you to tears.

Although the film feels uneven at times (Kathryn's family situation and romance with a fellow peacekeeper never seem fully fleshed out) it builds slowly to a burning rage. When you think that things can’t get worse for these poor women, they do. Weisz, a favourite of mine, is great as Kathryn. In one pivotal scene that is literally a life or death situation, the sheer agony and frustration that play across her face is heartbreaking. 

What I liked about this film is that it showed how one woman with quiet determination and an unwavering belief in her convictions can stand up and give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Please see it if you can.
Photo from Samuel Goldwyn.

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