The post-war Bosnia drama "The Whistleblower" earns high marks for its humanitarian intentions and for Rachel Weisz's steely performance as an American cop-turned-peacekeeper who exposes a sex-trafficking ring.
It's a movie that sanctifies rather than satisfies, though. The feature-film debut from director Larysa Kondracki is an oppressive sermon whose players are almost all wicked beyond contempt and whose hero is so saintly that an endorsement for canonization would not be out of place among the preachy text codas that conclude the movie.
Grim as the subject matter is, Kondracki crafts a taut, technically skillful thriller, making the black-and-white storytelling from her and her co-writer Eilis Kirwan all the more disappointing.
Yes, men who participate in smuggling and imprisonment of young women as sex slaves are scum who deserve far more than castigation by proxy in a movie dramatization.
But "The Whistleblower" lacks the sort of subtlety needed to make the drama credible and, frankly, watchable. Viewers don't need to sympathize in the slightest with the bad guys, but the villains do have to be something more than the snarling, sneering animals presented here.
Likewise, there's little nuance written into the character of Kathy Bolkovac, though Academy Award winner Weisz manages to infuse her with depth and temperament even as the script superficially casts her as some sort of superhuman do-gooder.
"The Whistleblower" is based on the actual experiences of Bolkovac, a former Nebraska cop who served as story consultant on the movie.
The story opens in 1999 as Weisz's Bolkovac takes a job with DynCorp, a private contractor recruiting police monitors for the United Nations mission to restore order in Bosnia after the war.
Bolkovac quickly discovers that the local police and their international advisers turn a blind eye to illegal trafficking of women to work in sleazy brothels. Worse, she begins to suspect that the authorities are active participants and her own colleagues are among the best customers.
The movie plays out as almost a single-handed crusade by one woman against ruthless, innumerable swine. The movie does toss in Vanessa Redgrave as the compassionate head of the U.N. human-rights office in Sarajevo and David Strathairn as a sympathetic internal-affairs investigator, but pretty much everyone else Bolkovac encounters is a caricature of maliciousness. (A note of neutrality - blandness, really - is provided by Monica Bellucci in a tiny, robotic role as a stone-faced, by-the-book bureaucrat).
Director Kondracki puts together some suspenseful sequences and delicately handles nasty moments of sexual abuse and other violence against the captive prostitutes, many of them still girls.
Yet for nearly two hours, the tone lurches from gloomy to unsavory to despairing and back to gloomy. Like "Erin Brockovich" or "Norma Rae," "The Whistleblower" aims to showcase how one dogged individual can expose institutional evil.
But those films were great dramas with complex, full-blooded characters at their core. "The Whistleblower" is a one-note affair that offers glimpses of the rich, broad life Bolkovac clearly lives but deifies her into someone inaccessible and unbelievable.
Even Hollywood's comic-book superheroes have their little flaws and peccadilloes, but this woman drawn from real life doesn't.
"The Whistleblower," a Samuel Goldwyn Films release, is rated R for disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language. Running time: 112 minutes. Two stars out of four.