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TORONTO — The incendiary subject of human trafficking provides the gritty backdrop for The Whistleblower, a fact-based political thriller starring Rachel Weisz as a Nebraska cop who witnesses the atrocities firsthand when she joins a U.N. peacekeeping team in post-war Serbia.
Although the Canada-Germany co-production from first-time feature director Larysa Kondracki isn’t as gripping as it could have been, that’s no fault of Weisz’s: She gives a bracing, wholly connected performance as the real-life Kathryn Bolkovac.
Her impressive turn and the explosive theme should ensure the film finds acquisition, though the eventual distributor might want to substitute the generic title with something more effectively representative.
The year is 1999, and Lincoln police officer Bolkovac, whose ex-husband has custody of their teenaged daughter, has been unsuccessfully trying to get a transfer to another police department to be closer to her.
When an opportunity to make $100,000 tax-free for a six-month stint as a U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia arises, she jumps at the opportunity.
Once there, however, Bolkovac ends up extending her stay when she’s promoted to the U.N.’s Gender Office — which deals with sexual-assault investigations — by Human Rights Commission head Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave).
But she gets much more than she bargains for when she uncovers a widespread sex-trafficking operation leaving a trail of corruption and cover-ups that can be traced back to her fellow peacekeepers.
Kondracki, who co-wrote the extensively researched script with Eilis Kirwan, doesn’t flinch at grisly authenticity, and several sequences in Whistleblower are admittedly hard to watch.
What’s missing is a quickening pace and a heightening tension that would put it more in lockstep with those classic political thrillers by the likes of Sydney Pollack and Alan J. Pakula, which it clearly wishes to emulate.
Weisz is commandingly up to the task: With her hair pulled back into a loose, unglamorous ponytail and affecting a convincing accent, she’s absolutely believable as the not-easily-intimidated Bolkovac, who’s determined to save the lives of these young girls sold into the sex trade at the expense of reconnecting with her own daughter.
Good, too, though in a limited supporting capacity, is the always-reliable Redgrave and David Strathairn as a sympathetic superior.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production: eOne Entertainment, Voltage Pictures, Whistleblower Canada, Barry Films, Sunrise Films
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Screenwriters: Eilis Kirwan & Larysa Kondracki
Executive producers: Amy Kaufman, Sergei Bespalov, Nicolas Chartier
Producers: Christina Piovesan, Celine Rattray
Director of photography: Kieran McGuigan
Production designer: Caroline Foellmer
Music: Mychael Danna
Costume designer: Gersha Phillips
Editor: Julian Clarke
No rating, 105 minutes
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