"The Whistleblower": a summer movie with a serious agenda

Kathryn Bolkovac wrote "The Whistleblower" about her encounter with sex trafficking in Bosnia. Will it work as a summer movie?

By , Monitor contributor

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    The real life Kathryn Bolkovac, who describes herself as "kind of a 5-foot-10 big-boned cop," laughs at the idea of being portrayed by Rachel Weisz, whom she calls "a petite, beautiful young woman."
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Following the trend of book-to-movie adaptations this summer, the movie version of Kathryn Bolkovac's nonfiction book "The Whistleblower" will be released on Friday, Aug. 5.

But unlike much summer fare at the cinema, Bolkovac's book treats a very serious subject. Originally a policewoman working in Nebraska, Bolkovac signed up to be a UN peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Working for the contracting company DynCorp, Bolkovac gradually came to realize that some of her fellow peacekeepers were supporting the very things that they were sent to Bosnia to stop – specifically sex trafficking and underage prostitution.

"The Whistleblower" tells the story of what happened to Bolkovac in Bosnia – leading up the moment when she began to fear for her life.

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In an interview with the Monitor, Bolkovac says that she was intrigued by the chance to work in Bosnia, partly because of her Croatian heritage. But she even years of police work left her ill-prepared for some of what she discovered there. As soon as she began training at DynCorp, it became "evident that at least one person in [her] group was familiar with the use of [underage] women – 12-to-15-year-olds, children – for sex [in] Bosnia." The problem only became more obvious once she arrived in Bosnia.

Bolkovac reported the misconduct of her fellow peacekeepers, who were some of the underage brothel's best customers, but was stonewalled by her superiors and ultimately fired. However, in dogged police fashion, Bolkovac continued to investigate the crime, despite serious resistance from the UN and the State Department. She told the Huffington Post "I was doing my job, I was investigating crime," when asked about going above and beyond the call of duty.

In her interview with the Monitor, Bolkovac said that educating the UN police forces about the consequences of encouraging sex trafficking and being more selective in the peacekeeper recruitment process would go a long way toward correcting the misbehavior of police forces stationed in foreign countries.

In the movie adaptation of 'The Whistleblower," Bolkovac is played by actress Rachel Weisz. Although admitting that it was unnerving to watch someone else play her onscreen ("Rachel Weisz is a petite, beautiful young woman and I’m kind of a 5-foot-10 big-boned cop," Bolkovac laughs) Bolkovac said she was very pleased with Weisz's heartfelt performance. Bolkovac told the Monitor that when she was on set, Weisz would stop and ask her, “Kathy, how would you do this? How would you say that?," determined to play the peacekeeper as accurately as possible.

Some critics have lauded Weisz's performance. Michael Rechtshaffen from The Hollywood Reporter calls Weisz's portrayal "a bracing, wholly connected performance as the real-life Kathryn Bolkovac."

However, some other critics have lamented the film's at times heavy-handed moralizing and self-righteous tone. David Germain of The Associated Press claims that the film "deifies [Bolkovac] into someone inaccessible and unbelievable, and David Nusair from Reel Film Reviews calls it a "preachy, hopelessly heavy-handed piece of work."

With a story as dramatic as Bolkovac's and with an actress like Weisz at the helm, "The Whistleblower" certainly has caché. Whether summer audiences decide it's their kind of fare or not remains to be seen.

Megan Wasson is a Monitor contributor.

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