Release Date: August 5, 2011 (limited)
Rating: R (for disturbing violent content, including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 118 min.
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Actors: Rachel Weisz, Monica Belluci, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Nikolaj Lie Kaas

Human trafficking is one of today’s most compelling moral issues. It cuts across religious and political boundaries, uniting people in efforts to free women and children from modern-day slavery.

Such an important subject calls for a stirring movie—a film that not only highlights the issue for the masses but tells its story through vivid characterizations by illuminating the complexities faced among those trying to do good unto others.

The subject has been tackled in several films of late, including Trade (2007) and Taken (2009). Trade, starring Kevin Kline, was an earnest film with a few powerful scenes but one that suffered from subplots and an uneven tone. Taken, starring Liam Neeson, showed some behind-the-scenes squalor of girls kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, but the film was more of a straight-ahead revenge thriller than probing moral tale.

The Whistleblower, a new film about sex trafficking starring Rachel Weisz (The Lovely Bones), has its own host of problems. The film is almost unremittingly grim, which may seem appropriate for such a horrifying subject, but the effect on the viewer is that of being struck repeatedly with a sledgehammer. Sex trafficking is bad. Really bad! Did you get that, or do you need to watch a few more scenes of physical and sexual brutality? Don’t worry: The Whistleblower has those aplenty. It takes brutality into the realm of gratuitousness, all in the name of showing the horrors of the issue it’s addressing.

Weisz plays Kathy, an American police officer with a personal life that’s a mess. She’s divorced and wants to see more of her daughter. But more than that, she needs money, so she signs up for a job opportunity offering up to $100,000 for six months’ work as a U.N. peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Her mission, says one of her co-workers, is to institute the rule of law “where lawlessness has run rampant.”

Kathy has to play by the rules instituted by men. Socially, that means hanging out at the bar, drinking, and hooking up. Although she has two marriages behind her, she barely hesitates before sleeping with a married man. But no sooner does the film introduce her new relationship than it drops it to focus on the physical and sexual abuse suffered by Bosnian women. The film’s cursory treatment of Kathy’s personal life in Bosnia is one of its problems. Why introduce a relationship that isn’t explored in any depth? Were the filmmakers interested in providing a little sex (“romance” wouldn’t really fit what we see) to hold the interest of audience members not interested in the film’s focus on trafficking? The very fact that the question occurs is evidence of how poorly integrated into the story Kathy’s love life is.