Oscarbait 2011: The Whistleblower, aka, Amateur Human Rights Porn


Every two years or so we of an internationalist mind-set are blessed with movies that seem to be designed in a test-tube just for us, featuring top-shelf acting and plot points designed to alternately break our hearts and make our blood boil.

The past decade produced numerous exemplars of this sort of "human rights porn": Hotel Rwanda, The Interpreter and my personal favorite, Blood Diamond (ja ja).

Common tropes of the "human rights porn" genre include but are not limited to:

  • Top actors bravely wearing accents that don't quite exist in reality
  • Totally unnecessary romantic subplots that grind the narrative to a halt.
  • Some variation on "I'm not looking for scandal/trouble/murder/glory/death. I'm just looking for the truth."

The Whistleblower takes all three of these tropes and wears them proudly on its shirtsleeves.

First of all, this film is clearly a vehicle for Rachel Weisz, who I have long professed my true love for (curse you, James Bond). In fact, it is so much a vehicle for Rachel Weisz that it's a series of "big acting" scenes, over and over and over. And with each subsequent set of histrionics, her accent becomes more dodgy. She starts out sounding mannered, as in "haow naow, braown caow", and proceeds with elocution that Bette Davis might have saluted. In no way does she sound like a cop.

There's another problem with treating this as a Rachel Weisz film instead of a dramatic ensemble film: the film wastes Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn in small roles. Both lend the film a touch of mystery and gravitas that balances out the histrionics, and mystery is one thing this film sorely lacks.

But enough about the acting, which is largely competent. Let's talk about the narrative, which is problematic at best. The movie tries to point fingers at a lot of different targets, and can't seem to settle on any particular one. As with any film of this type, it boggles the mind that no other character has thought to themselves, "hey, sex trafficking is kinda evil," and tried to stop it from happening.

The film criticizes the incompetence of private contractors hired to oversee the transition, and apart from our fearless heroine, every last one of them is a hard-partying, child-raping, adulterous jackass. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Those that do not actively participate know about the problem children, but not only do they ignore them, they encourage their scum-of-the-earth behavior.

I can see what The Whistleblower is trying to be, but the problem is that it doesn't come close to the films it aspires to be. It has plenty of shock-horror, rape scenes that are literally unwatchable, but fails to tie together any sort of narrative. Bolkovac shows up, has sex with some dude, uncovers sex-trafficking, fails to rescue any of the girls, and goes home. She exposes the men involved, but they're sent home without censure. It's a bleak ending for a movie that has not earned that sort of bleakness.

If you watch it, watch it for Rachel Weisz, who is very good in it. Otherwise, I'd say give it a miss.


This entry was posted on and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can leave a response .

5 Responses to “ Oscarbait 2011: The Whistleblower, aka, Amateur Human Rights Porn ”

  1. The only sex-traffic-related film I've seen is "Taken" with Liam Neeson. I felt like that was pretty bleak and hopeless, though clearly action-bent rather than actor-bent. How would you compare the two?

  2. Aaaw shucks, hopefully I like it more. But, hearing that Vanessa is wasted makes me very unhappy, I was really looking forward to her here. Still, it's Rachel (I curse THE MUMMY for making me fall in love with her) and she's always worth watching in my eyes - particularly good in AGORA last year.

  3. Shelley, I haven't actually seen Taken! Do you think it's worth watching? This film is definitely more actor-bent than action-bent. There is some action, but it's not really paced like a thriller.

    Andrew, I love Rachel too. I feel like Agora was a truly fantastic movie and I wish more people saw it.

  4. Considering Whistleblower has had generally good reviews, I wanted to see it. Strange, though, it disappeared after a very short run. Any reason for that?

  5. I'm not sure, to be honest! I imagine that once they knew they weren't getting Oscar buzz they didn't want to spend money distributing it?
    Apparently there were tons of production problems when filming it as well.


Powered by Blogger.