Ten days into the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), I finally attended my first showing, a sold-out screening of the upcoming drama-thriller The Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz. The movie, about sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia and the subsequent follow-up by the United Nations and United States, is unfortunately a dull, somewhat cluttered affair.
In The Whistleblower, Weisz plays U.S. detective Kathryn Bolkovac, who becomes a U.N. peacekeeper and moves to Bosnia with the intent to protect the innocent civilians of Sarajevo. She soon stumbles across a human trafficking ring involving young women and teenagers and realizes that not only are the local police involved but so are many of her colleagues at the United Nations, who all have diplomatic immunity.
The movie is based on a true story and director and co-writer Larysa Kondracki - who was in attendance at the screening at the Egyptian - clearly has a passion for the subject. Unfortunately, despite Kondracki's best attempts to develop a sense of suspense and mystery, The Whistleblower is surprisingly boring and at times cluttered.
The story is interesting and prime for an adaptation such as this, but the filmmakers just weren't up to the task. The movie lacks focus, wanting to be too many things at once. It would have been most effective as a thriller, but instead it plays out like a lackluster drama with music that tries (and fails) to twist what's happening on screen into something thrilling. There's little suspense and none of the characters are very compelling.
Weisz tries her best, but is limited by a screenplay that paints her as one-dimensional and unaware of the reality of her circumstances. Kondracki and co-writer Eilis Kirwan waste time trying to develop her character as a caring mother, even though they drop the subplot after five minutes. More time is wasted developing her relationships with other men - all of whom look alike - but none have any bearing on the overarching plot or her character.
Furthermore, the young women Kondracki highlighted are treated as nothing more than objects to sway sympathy from the audience. The filmmakers' intent may be sincere, but the characters are so shallow I really didn't care what happened to them.
It's obvious what Kondracki and Kirwan were intending to do with these elements. They wanted to paint Kathryn as a modern woman willing to buck the system due to her own fears of losing a daughter, and to show the atrocities the authorities in Bosnia were inflicting on young women under the supervision of the U.N. But the synergy isn't there, the execution not cohesive.
Despite the lack of synergy, the makings of a good film are there. Kondracki overextended her reach for her first feature-length film, but a tighter edit could make The Whistleblower worthwhile. As is, the movie is an opportunity squandered, a poor use of great talent (Monica Belluci, Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn make up the supporting cast) and a misfire for what could have been a powerful film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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