When Kathryn Bolkovac, Nebraska police officer and divorced mother of a teenage daughter, signs on to a high-paying job with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 1999, she looks for a fresh start.
What she finds in the squalor of Sarajevo is deeper-rooted and more degrading than ethnic hatred. Even worse, the perpetrators may very well be her colleagues.
“The Whistleblower,” Larysa Kondracki’s uneven debut feature exposing the explosive subject of sex trafficking, derives its strength from Rachel Weisz’s intelligent performance as the real-life Bolkovac.
The empathic professional discovers cells of indentured, mostly underage sex slaves smuggled in from Ukraine. “War whores,” her colleagues call them.
But the war is over. “Half of our men are dead,” says a Bosnian woman sheltering runaway slaves. “So, who do you think these girls are for?”
Bolkovac resists the implication that it’s the men working as United Nations peacekeepers and rebuilders in the former Yugoslavia who are clients of the traffickers pimping the girls. But each thread of evidence she picks up leads to an even more tangled, and disturbing, possibility.
The story, inspired by Bolkovac’s experiences in Bosnia and her subsequent book, is dynamite. Alas, Kondracki’s direction fizzles. Though she elicits a tense and eloquent performance from Weisz, the first-time filmmaker fails to maintain a consistent tone, and her film samples multiple genres.
The handheld scenes of sex workers look as if they were made by an exploitation director. The sequences of Bolkovac investigating the sex traffickers look like outtakes from a horror movie. When Bolkovac stands up to her sexist bosses, Kondracki’s film sweats like a thriller.
Because of the abrupt tonal shifts, Kondracki fails to maintain momentum. To her credit, Weisz does.