When the startling but important film The Whistleblower premiered at the Lobero Theatre back in January as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, writer/director Larysa Kondracki appeared in a post-screening Q&A. She carefully measured her words and wouldn’t name the actual company in the crosshairs of her dark but illuminating film about sex-trafficking enabled by a private military company subsidized by the U.S. government. “Google it,” she coyly said. We did: Can you say DynCorps? Such is the life of a whistle-blowing filmmaker, fighting the good fight of bringing unsavory tales to public light.
On screen, the operative, eponymous “whistle-blower” is Kathryn Bolkovac (played with an engaging and mounting intensity by Rachel Weisz), a humble Midwestern policewoman who signs up for a United Nations detail in Bosnia in the early 1990s and stumbles on a demimonde of depravity. Kidnapped and drugged young women, often from Russia, are enslaved in a ramshackle nightclub/brothel/hell zone, and it quickly becomes apparent that American operatives are not only customers, but are complicit in the criminal machinery.
Kondracki’s film, shot quickly and on a modest budget in Romania, is by its nature dark, often literally, with a classic investigative dramatic arc and suspenseful air. Our protagonist discovers the inherent evil and then seeks to redress the injustice, putting herself in peril along the way. Apart from Weisz’s veracious and gripping presence, strong acting from the likes of David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci, and Vanessa Redgrave helps to lend substance to the film—essentially Kondracki’s “thesis project,” developed over eight years.
While short of a great movie on cinematic terms, The Whistleblower belongs to that special class of films with a will to expose a real and present evil in the world, with hopes of helping bring about change.