The war in Europe was a particularly ugly time for Kathyrn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), a Nebraskan cop who found herself in the middle of a brutal sex trade operating under the unofficial auspices of the United Nations. This haunting and frequently distressing drama, based on Bolkovac’s personal experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is serious Oscar material. This year’s The Hurt Locker, replacing bombs with red tape.

In the mid 1990’s, a wary calm has returned to the Balkans where peace-keeper Bolkovac is promoted by the Human Rights Commission. In her new role, she uncovers a noxious, highly profitable business in under-age sex-trafficking, only to realise that it is run by officers paid to care for the local community. Worse, cash and authority is running back through international contractors appointed by the UN, and up through the UN itself. In trying to protect the girls, Bolkovac soon falls foul of anyone who can protect her.

Her crusade makes for riveting viewing as fear and tension escalates to breaking point. Support from Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn and Vanessa Redgrave are solid support as three variations of bureaucratic intransigence; people who force Bolkovac into the open where wolves wait in the icy destruction. It’s a chilly vision of Europe few ever saw.

The Whistleblower is an outstanding feature from first timer Larysa Kondracki who captured one of Weisz’s best performances in an already distinguished career. Both rise to the challenge of revealing the horrendous abuse endured by the girls, and the terrifying lengths to which their keepers would go to maintain their vicious trade. The results make for a tense, sickening experience whose only comfort is the knowledge that women like Bolkovac exist: people willing to fight for their beliefs, no matter how dangerous that becomes.



The Whistleblower is a taut, political thriller based on an actual story and directed by Larysa Kondracki. It is the director’s feature debut and a worthy one at that; she also co-wrote the screenplay, in collaboration with Irish writer Eilis Kirwan. The script is driven by an extremely strong female character, a real-life heroine, Kathyrn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), who is a bit of a battler, a Nebraskan cop who takes a well-paid peace-keeping job for the UN in Bosnia. Why? Well, because like many divorced women who are left to fend for themselves, she is desperately trying to maintain a relationship with her estranged daughter. This means saving up enough money to join her in another US state.

This is post-war Bosnia, a place which reeks of corruption and is controlled by a number of private peace-keeping companies and the UN, who are responsible for restoring law and order. Kathyrn begins to notice that not all is as it should be and uncovers a situation which is dangerous and quite frankly, nauseating – a human sex trafficking industry which appears to protect the perpetrators with diplomatic immunity, a policy dictated by the UN. As Kathryn delves deeper into the world of trafficking, her position becomes a threat to the face of the rebuilding project in Bosnia.

Weisz is believable as the tough but rather fragile-looking cop who is battling against all odds and is up against a very ruthless machine. In fact, there are few likeable male characters in the film, although the writers balance the machismo with the role of the Head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave). Redgrave gives a strong, mannered performance and provides the voice of reason in an increasingly insane situation. Monica Bellucci, as the brittle head of an NGO, represents the bureaucracy that Kathryn is up against, in an against-type role that casts her in an unattractive light.

Written by women and told from a female perspective, this is a film not to be missed by either gender. It exposes the harsh realities of a war which was as secretive as its aftermath. Be warned, there are some pretty harrowing scenes which make for uncomfortable viewing. However, I strongly recommend you put yourself through it as the facts are astonishing and it shows how the powers that be have a lot to answer for.

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Rachel Weisz
Vanessa Redgrave
Monica Bellucci
David Straithairn

Larysa Kondracki

Eilis Kirwan


MA / 112 minutes

September 29, 2011
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moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks