American police officer Kathryn Bolkovac went to work as a peacekeeper for the United Nations, and ended up being sacked after discovering her fellow officers were involved in sex trafficking.
She went on to win a case for unfair dismissal against the company she worked for under whistleblower laws, and although a number of the officers involved in the scandal were forced to resign, none faced prosecution because of diplomatic immunity.
Bolkovac’s experiences have been turned into The Whistleblower, with Rachel Weisz playing the lead role.
She is good as the tough Bolkovac (with some fictional liberties), who leaves Nebraska for Bosnia to make more money in the hopes of seeing more of her daughter, who lives with Bolkovac’s ex-husband.
Unfortunately, once we get out of Nebraska, Bolkovac seems to forget she has a daughter, and shows more motherly feelings for Raya, a trafficked girl she meets, than her own daughter. In fact, other unrelated characters seem more concerned about Bolkovac’s real daughter.
No parallels are drawn between her being a mother and her need to protect those she encounters, leaving us with the impression that Bolkovac is not a very good mother – jarring in the context of a film about protecting vulnerable females.
The film has some moments of suspense, including during scenes where the terrified trafficked girls are abused, and during a brief car chase which results in traffickers recapturing one of the rescued girls. There are some scenes where Raya and her peers are screamed and shouted at, and worse, but the worse is done in such a vague way that I’m never quite sure when watching what the punishment is.
Vanessa Redgrave plays Bolkovac’s mentor Madeleine Rees, and steals every scene she is in. Her wise words help Bolkovac bring down the trafficking ring, but for a woman with so much power within the UN, it’s not clear why Rees just can’t do the work herself, and why Bolkovac has to do it.
For Sherlock fans, there’s a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch, although he doesn’t really do much – much like many of the characters in this film he seems to just be there for Bolkovac to get frustrated with and realise she has to do everything by herself.
Most of the time, the film left me left disappointed.
Apart from some threatening looks and the odd comment thrown Bolkovac’s way, she doesn’t appear to face any difficulties in getting away with information which could bring her employers down.
There is no excitement in the scene where she emails senior officials with details of her colleagues’ crimes. It’s meant to be a pivotal scene, one that leads to everyone knowing she’s onto them, but the email she compiles (revealed in voiceover) is boring and seems to include none of the unsavoury details of what her colleagues are doing.
Similarly, the supposedly climactic end sequence, where Bolkovac has to get evidence out of her old office building unseen is boring and predictable.
Usually, I get a little bit annoyed when true stories are given the “Hollywood” treatment, but in this case I think the film needed it. The Whistleblower is billed as a thriller, but fails to thrill in any way, shape or form.
It comes across more like a documentary, and perhaps if it had been made as one, The Whistleblower would have been more interesting, but billing it as a thriller holds certain expectations – which aren’t delivered.
One thing The Whistleblower did succeed in making me do was want to find out more about the real Bolkovac and her case, but only because the film left me so disappointed. Trust me, the real story is more exciting.