Make no mistake, The Whistleblower isn't an easy film to watch. But the horrors aren't in your face. And Larysa Kondracki, the director who spent two years researching the film in Eastern Europe and working closely with Bolkovac, walks a careful line between showing us the devastating realities of trafficking and then offering us hope in Bolkovac's dogged attempts to blow the whistle on all the corruption around her.
The talented cast also keeps us engaged. Rachel Weisz is wonderful as Bolkovac, a no-nonsense civil servant who is stunned at what she walks into. Vanessa Redgrave is a needed touch of strength and warmth as her mentor Madeleine, and David Strathairn is at his government thriller best as Peter Ward, an Internal Affairs agent. Raya is heart-breaking as the young victim.
I was disappointed that Bolkovac, at least in the film, carries on a relationship with a married man. I certainly didn't expect her to be perfect, but it's unfortunate that she seems to take sex—with someone else's husband—so lightly when she's combating sexual crimes. There is also some uneven pacing, a couple overdramatic scenes, and a few heavy-handed moments—all somewhat understandable given the magnitude of the case and the nature of the crimes.
You will walk out of The Whistleblower angry—that U.N. peacekeepers needed only a high school diploma and to be over the age of 21, that domestic violence wasn't considered worth prosecuting in Bosnia (and still isn't in many countries), that your tax dollars helped support the corrupt security firms involved in this scandal, that trafficking wouldn't exist if there was no demand for cheap degrading sex with young girls, and that human beings could treat each other with such astounding inhumanity.
As I drove home from the screening, I found myself staggered by the fact that people can separate sex and bodies from any sense of the person involved—a God-breathed individual with hopes, talents, fears, loves. As I was wondering how these things could get so separated and distorted, I passed a billboard with a picture of a woman in a bikini on it—selling light beer. A piece of the answer, to be sure.
But The Whistleblower will serve its best purpose if it moves us not just to anger, but to action. Eilis Kirwan, one of the film's writers, remembers some of her first impressions of Bolkovac: "She's funny and she's a mom and she has weird ringtones on her phone. She's not some … self-righteous lady. She's just somebody who was in a situation who saw something was happening that she didn't think was OK." In the face of whatever injustices we encounter, may we all be inspired by Bolkovac's courage.