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Toronto 2010: Rachel Weisz blows the whistle

September 15, 2010 |  6:28 am

"Is this a documentary?"

"No, it's a fiction feature starring Rachel Weisz."

This exchange, overheard as the audience was shuffling into the Elgin Theatre on Monday afternoon, seemed to sum up "The Whistleblower," based on the real-life story of Kathy Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who headed to Bosnia in 1999 as part of a privately contracted peacekeeping force under the umbrella of the United Nations. While there, she uncovered a human-trafficking ring providing girls to the international forces brought in to bring peace to the region, putting her in a position of conflict with her own bosses and the world body.

Directed by Larysa Kondracki, co-writer of the script with Eilis Kirwan, the film portrays a world in which unfathomable cruelty is tolerated on a daily basis. With a number of difficult-to-watch scenes -- including one in which a girl is raped with a metal pipe -- the film does have a certain direct power. There is a deeply felt performance by Rachel Weisz, who seems to elevate everything she is in. Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci and Nikolaj Lie Kaas round out the cast.

Kondracki doesn't really bring out more than the surface notes in the story, and when she attempts to inject some visual style into things, it mostly just means letting the camera go somewhat out of focus. The film often seems to want to have it both ways, trying to be a slick Hollywood-style thriller as well as a shocking issue-based drama, and never quite bridges the gap between the two. Nevertheless, with its strong lead performance, bold and simple title and compelling story, the film is likely to be among the more commercial properties in play at the festival. It was co-produced by Voltage Pictures, which previously sold "The Hurt Locker" in Toronto.

After the screening, which received a standing ovation, Kondracki, Weisz, Bolkovac and Kirwan took to the stage for a Q&A session. Asked whether she was afraid of possible repurcussions from having her story made into a film, Bolkovac said, "By being fearful of anything else to come would have made me not go through with what I was meant to do, so i think it was the right thing to do."

Standing onstage, Weisz, with dark hair and an all-white outfit, made an unlikely pair with Bolkovac, a blond wearing a swirl of colors.

"I'm from north London," Weisz said. "I'm a posh north London girl, so playing someone like Kathy, a cop from Nebraska, that kind of felt like a stretch. We come from very different backgrounds.

"The thing I felt was the key to Kathy from my point of view," continued Weisz, "what she did wasn't really a choice. It wasn't really that she sat down and said, 'Hmm, shall I do this?' It's just her nature. Had it been me, the girl from north London, I would have just taken my paycheck and gone home quietly. It's just Kathy's nature that she could not do but do what she did. And that's a fascinating spirit to inhabit."

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Rachel Weisz in "The Whistleblower." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival