The Whistleblower skirts the line between political thriller, conspiracy picture and melodrama, but it does it well, building the right amount of tension and intrigue as it gallops along. The setting is Bosnia in the late ’90s, but the corruption and abuse that the film details is entirely applicable to today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a subtitle before the closing credits points out.
Kathy, played earnestly by Rachel Weisz, has arrived in Bosnia in 1999 to join the UN peacekeeping force. Things haven’t been going so well at home, professionally or personally. The transfer she’s been waiting for to escape from her Nebraska police job hasn’t come through, and work and divorce have kept her from seeing her daughter as much as she wants. When she’s presented with an opportunity to make good money overseas, she jumps at it, thinking it’ll only be for about six months. Once there, however, she’s drawn into uncovering a nefarious human trafficking ring that enslaves young women from Eastern Europe at bars in and around Sarajevo. Even worse, Dutch and American peacekeepers are playing a central role in this criminal activity.
Weisz’s portrayal of Kathy balances the novelty of coming to a foreign country and meeting new people with her moral compass and inability to ignore the corruption occurring around her. She begins a relationship with a Dutch peacekeeper, Jan (Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who she meets at a bar and promptly goes home with. He doesn’t share the cowboy attitude that the others have, even though he’s a seasoned veteran of the long path to recovery going on in Bosnia. On the other hand, Kathy’s maternal instincts are constantly in the forefront of her mind, as she calls her daughter to tell her that she’s been promoted and won’t be home as soon as she thought. These same instincts guide her, a bit ham-handedly at times, in her concern about the girls who are being abused and prostituted. If she can’t be the mother she’d like to be to her own progeny, she is determined to take care of others.
The ethnic tensions that were tearing the region apart at the time are brought up in the film, as the corrupt Bosnian police force is less than willing to help Muslim victims of crimes. On the peacekeeping side, officials played by David Strathairn and Vanessa Redgrave seem concerned and willing to back Kathy in her exploits, although the film does bring into question just which side they are playing for. One gets the feeling that the enormity of dealing with all the abuses going on in Bosnia at the time overwhelmed even the most empathetic of hearts.
The Whistleblower hits the right notes at the right times in a style more reminiscent of 1970s political conspiracy thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or All The President’s Men. There are some hackneyed lines, like the moment when a character declares, “Fuck protocol!” or describes how the “whores of war” are part of the military industrial complex at the center of the trafficking scheme. But overall, the writing is smart and the direction straightforward. Kondracki lays out the duplicitous and downright scary trail that leads all the way back to the U.S. State Department, keeping the key players obscured but ominous all the same. Without a real chase scene or shootout, it’s evident that Kathy’s safety is not assured, although she chooses to go deeper just the same. Although the film ends on a note of hope, it’s very much a product of paranoid and distrustful times – feelings based on the reality of war and the profiteering that almost always accompanies it.