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MOVIE REVIEW: Rookie director tries too hard with dark, intense film 'The Whistleblower'

The Whistleblower (R)

2 out of 4 starsWhile there are countless movies depicting war, there are a scant few that examine the often equally horrific events taking place in the wake of peace. With unwavering earnestness and a martyr's level of self-awareness, "The Whistleblower" tackles the seedy subject of white slavery that took place more than a decade ago in post-war Bosnia.

Even though this involved underage girls, a faceless US conglomerate and the big brass at the UN with all of it being very tragic, it's not the kind of movie most American audiences are going to get all jacked up about. In addition to being depressing and indignant, the movie is only so-so and if you purged the profanity, violence and sexual frankness a bit, it would make for a perfect fit on the Lifetime or Oxygen channels.

It's hard to pick on a movie with such good intentions but films with such downbeat subject matter face hurdles upbeat productions don't. If you're going to bum people out, you better do it with style and not come off like a Movie of the Week in the process. "The Whistleblower" is about as average as film can get without being bad.

Employed as a police officer in Nebraska, the twice-divorced Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is offered a chance to go to Bosnia and work as a peacekeeper for the UN -- for $100,000 a year tax free. While not told so specifically or directly, it is implied the position is perfunctory, unassuming and mostly symbolic. Bolkovac isn't being sent there to save the world; she's just a uniformed employee going through the motions. If things get hairy, she needs to call in the big guns and keep her mouth shut.

Perhaps out of some misplaced guilt regarding her own questionable past as a mother and wife, Bolkovac lands in country and immediately starts acting like Mariska Hargitay on "Law & Order: SVU." After attempting to bring an abusive husband to justice, she comes into contact with a teen girl who has been beaten and sexually mistreated and takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of it all.

What Bolkovac can't or refuses to figure out but what is made clear to her by many people repeatedly with escalating forcefulness is that this is not her problem and she should keep her nose out of it. Because the real Bolkovac is still alive, what she did had to have worked to some degree but much of what we see Weisz's version of her do in the movie is just plain stupid. If you're a civilian -- make that a female civilian -- in a de facto war zone, you don't get up in the faces of shady native outlaws or corrupt US servicemen.

Drawing on a palate of grimy blues and muddy browns, first time director Larysa Kondracki goes completely overboard with the mood setting, practically daring us to remain objective. She and co-writer Eilis Kirwan turn Bolkovac into an amalgamation of Clarice Starling, Erin Brockovich, Karen Silkwood and every other headstrong movie heroine determined to put down and/or expose evil. Again, while in its own way noble, it is reckless and arrogant behavior and the filmmakers' heavy handed approach makes it all the more off-putting.

The movie is somewhat salvaged by the presence of three strong supporting players (David Strathairn, Vanessa Redgrave and Monica Bellucci) who offer some much needed calm and balance to Weisz's breakneck approach. Based on the rest of her mostly esteemed resume and usual low-key style, it's a safe assumption that Weisz was just doing what was asked of her by Kondracki.

A movie like "The Whistleblower" has the kind of gravitas that doesn't need a ton of style to get its message across and certainly is not the type of film for a rookie director looking to make a splash.

Presented in English with occasional subtitled Croatian. (Samuel Goldwyn)