'The Whistleblower' starts off rather clunky and awkward, as if trying extra hard to establish character before we gather any sense of how it relates to the overall plot. The script, written by relative newcomers Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan, crams a great deal of exposition into the first half hour, while also practically announcing its intentions. Much of it we could do without had the filmmakers had enough confidence in the material and that old maxim of "show, don't tell." The film eventually finds its footing, but the road getting there feels endless, filled with inconsequential scenes and characters that inexplicably disappear for the rest of the runtime.
Rachel Weisz plays Midwestern police officer Kathryn Bolkovac, who over a decade ago, ousted private contractor DynCorp for its involvement in human-trafficking during post-war Bosnia. She's looking to transfer in an area closer to where her daughter is living with dad, but instead takes an opportunity as peacekeeper for the U.N. and moves further away. Precisely how the two relate beyond the more-than-excellent pay is part of the movie's mystery. Considering the story doesn't actually start until her arrival in the war-torn country, the filmmakers could have easily made all that apparent via some phone calls, but as it is, we're made to wait before things finally come to fruition.
Once Kathryn begins to slowly uncover a prostitution ring as a means for young women to pay their debts, a mystery thriller suddenly peeks through,and any argument for the last half hour's existence also finds ammunition here, even if it is pretty evident and heavy-handed. Upon meeting Raya (Roxana Condurache), Kathryn makes it her personal mission to end this revolting business and expose all the men involved. Basically, her maternal instincts suddenly take over as she digs deeper into this terrible crime. Any more obvious and Weisz would come with a big neon sign overhead. 'Whistleblower' clearly wants to mix political messaging with an overwrought suspense drama, which can be done when in the right hands, but it lacks all the subtlety and finesse to make it all work.
Making her feature-length debut, co-writer Larysa Kondracki is a film school graduate, and it shows. Part of the film's problem is that it seems self-conscious, as if knowing the message it wishes to deliver, and does so explicitly. We're almost always aware of the camera and the many photography techniques attempting to build suspense — which there is actually little of. The bokeh and alterations with depth of field are used conveniently during Kathryn's most troubled moments and really do a disservice to the narrative. Whether she's walking through the halls with the eyes of angry men following her or walking away from the body of a young prostitute, the visual effect not only comes off amateurish but ultimately, distracting.
It's a shame, really, because 'The Whistleblower' could have been a very powerful motion picture. Although it could benefit from some tightening up of certain unnecessary parts, the story, too, is intriguing and very much worth telling. But it's Rachel Weisz's performance which ultimately comes out on top, pretty much salvaging what could otherwise be deemed an unremarkable dark drama. The frustration we feel for Kathryn having to deal with the ridiculous bureaucratic red tape could be a shared dislike with Kondracki behind the camera, but I prefer to see it as Weisz making a believable character we can feel for. If for nothing else, the Oscar-winning star of 'The Constant Gardner' provides just enough reason to watch, but the film itself is the work of a filmmaker still learning the ropes.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment releases 'The Whistleblower' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-case. At startup, the disc commences with a few skippable trailers, followed by the standard main menu selection with music and full-motion clips.
'The Whistleblower' comes to Blu-ray with a generally satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1).
Since the subject matter is itself rather dark and unpleasant, Kieran McGuigan's photography is also gloomy, with a noticeably somber sensibility. Most of the picture is drained of color with lots of gray, bluish overtones, but the palette is by and large accurate, especially greens and reds. Skin tones appear healthy, but not exactly what we've call natural, which is part of the film's intentional look. Contrast is steady and stable from beginning to end while still providing the drab feel filmmakers want. Blacks are strong and deep, yet far from exceptional. Shadows tend to overwhelm several scenes and obscure some background info. Fine object and textural details are well-defined, but don't compare to many other newer releases with a few hazy moments here and there.
Overall, the transfer looks great and as intended by its makers, with really good depth of field, but it's nothing that will blow your socks off.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanying the video is also fairly good, but not the sort to really impress anyone.
The design is understandably front-heavy, placing more emphasis on dialogue and various intimate conversations. For the most part, voices are intelligible and well-prioritized, but there are a couple times when we strain somewhat to hear what's being said, especially one whispered moment between Vanessa Redgrave and Rachel Weisz.
The rest of the lossless mix delivers a fine presentation with good balance and a detailed dynamic range. Imaging can seem quite wide and spacious during certain scenes, providing convincing off-screen effects and movement, but the overall quality is rather plain. Rear speakers kick in occasionally with some ambient sounds and extending the soundfield lightly, but never feel believable. Low bass offers a bit of weight to the action and music without feeling overwhelming, making this a respectable high-rez track.
The only supplement available on the package is a short overview of the real Kathryn Bolkovac, Rachel Weisz's performance and the plot with interviews, entitled Kathy Bolkovac: The Real Life Whistleblower (HD, 6 min).
'The Whistleblower' is a well-intentioned drama inspired by the 1999 scandal involving human-trafficking and a U.S.-based contractor in post-war Bosnia. Unfortunately, the film is much too self-conscious in its aspirations to be taken seriously. Fortunately, the performance of its star keeps viewers invested and the story is one worth telling. The Blu-ray debuts with a very good audio and video presentation, but only one supplement, making the disc a decent rental.