Rachel Weisz already has her Oscar, which should in part explain the lack of showboating in The Whistleblower, her go at an Erin Brokovich-style block of righteous indignation. As Kathryn Bolkovac, a real-life Nebraska police officer who unearthed a sex trafficking ring while stationed in postwar Bosnia, Weisz is reserved, even sometimes flirty and fun. When she’s inevitably Oscar-nominated, the clip—provided new ceremony head Bret Ratner hasn’t excised them—will be her character’s epic meltdown close to the climax. But such hysterics are refreshingly rare in a genre that typically thrives on them.
That’s really the only nice thing one can say about The Whistleblower—that, and its subject matter, although merely covering a heinous crime shouldn’t automatically result in laurels. Showing an evil is one thing, understanding it is another, and Larysa Kondracki’s film never gets past the former. As though written by a screenwriting program, The Whistleblower sets up Balkovac as a passionate workaholic (“It’s not my fault you’re married to that job of yours,” crows her ex-husband, subtly) who, cash-strapped, agrees to a high-paying UN job in a Boschian hellscape. There, she discovers even the nice guy who cracks jokes (Benedict Cumberbatch) has his mitts in the lucrative sex trade. Despite none-too-veiled threats from smirking officials, Balkovac soldiers on into Serpico territory, paying particularly attention to a Ukranian teen (Roxanna Condurache) sold into slavery by her uncle—an attachment that dovetails nicely, from a screenwriting position, with her strong desire to be reunited with her estranged daughter.
Without ever strongly pushing the R-rating, The Whistleblower conveys true horror, but never goes deeper than the superficial. It’s uninterested in what motivates most of its cast to become subhuman monsters, with the actors—ranging from hissable baddie David Hewlitt to uncaring bureaucrat Monica Bellucci—directed to play one-note evil against Weisz’s incorruptible justice-seeker. What The Whistleblower seeks is punishment without diagnosis. Solving a problem means getting at the root of it and finding what causes it. All this film does is settle for a palliative, making audiences feel better for caring about an inhuman practice without getting close to locating a cure.