By Brian Lafferty
August 15, 2011 (San Diego) – The subject of sex trafficking is a serious one. Here in San Diego, teenage girls are taken by gangs and forced to become sex slaves. This subject deserves a better exploration and treatment than that seen in The Whistleblower, a film that is nothing more than 35-millimeter TV.
Rachel Weisz (one of my favorite actresses) plays a newly divorced Nebraska cop. Desperate for a good job after her transfer is denied (her husband has custody of their daughter and is moving out of state), she’s offered a six month, six-figure job in Bosnia, a nation recovering from a civil war. The idealistic Weisz uncovers a sex trafficking ring and learns to her horror that her colleagues at the United Nations are not only involved, but they are actively trying to cover it up.
Weisz gives a noble performance that, to my surprise, doesn’t approach Oscar bait territory. She doesn’t try too hard or go for broke. She’s passionate but there’s no desperation. She is the only thing that holds the overlong and mostly dull film together. She doesn’t save the film, but as long as she’s on screen, there’s at least something worth watching.
As likeable, attractive, and charismatic as she is, the film is perfunctory in every other department. The Whistleblower is nothing more than a made-for-TV movie blown up on the big screen. The story is routine and endless. First time director Larysa Kondracki shoots many scenes in close-ups and medium-shots, creating a frustrating “boxed-in” frame that is forgivable for television but not cinematic in theaters.
This is made even duller by the by-the-numbers production design and the bland and stale cinematography. I often sensed disinterest in the cinematography; it’s as if cinematographer Kieran McGuigan pointed the camera, lit the scene, and filmed without any further thought.
There are moments that break free from the monotony and inspire some feeling of anger. The scenes of abuse, such as the raping of a young girl as a warning to the other victims, is so unsettling that I’m amazed that the MPAA didn’t slap on an NC-17 rating. When the mother of the girl finds out her daughter’s own aunt sold her out, it’s infuriating, especially when her sister’s husband (among the masterminds of the ring) shuts her out of their lives (even going so far to tell her that she’s no longer her sister).
I wouldn’t classify The Whistleblower as a bad movie. It’s not cinematic. I don’t go to the movies to watch television. If this were an HBO Original Movie, then the close-ups, boxed-in frame, and routine story wouldn’t be an issue. Is this movie worth upwards of ten bucks a ticket to see on the big screen? The answer to that is no.
The Whistleblower is now playing at the Landmark La Jolla Village Cinemas.
A Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Director: Larysa Kondracki. Screenplay: Eilis Kirwan and Larysa Kondracki. Cinematography: Kieran McGuigan. Original Music: Mychael Danna. Cast: Rachel Weisz, David Straithairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Anna Anissimova, Roxana Condurache, Monica Bellucci, and Vanessa Redgrave. 112 minutes. Rated R.