"My favorite genre of movie -- if you could call it a genre, because there's not so many of them out there -- would be the ordinary woman doing the extraordinary thing, the David vs. Goliath-style fighting, one lone woman fighting injustice," Rachel Weisz says, a spark of excitement rising in her voice, "And I love it, I love that kind of thriller, the ordinary person who, because of their character, it's their character that leads them. As an actor, that's a kind of gift."
A stunner of an Oscar-winner who is known for her serious, independent roles as much as she is for the big budget and big Hollywood romances in which she sparkles, Weisz's latest gift is the true life post-Bosnian civil war corruption drama, "The Whistleblower." She brings to the big screen the brave story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer hired by military contractor DynCorp to work for the UN peacekeeping mission in a country with fresh wounds from years of devastating in-fighting.
Shortly after arriving in the war-torn country, rendered a seeming wasteland of half-standing houses, hollow exoskeletons of buildings and still-active landmines, she finds a thread of a single case of teenage prostitution that, once unraveled, reveals a long string of sex trafficking and corruption that goes to the very top of her own peacekeeping force -- and the UN itself.
The film, shot mostly in a Bucharest that doubled for the wrecked Bosnia, is a grim, grimy and scorched earth-palette thriller that follows Bolkovac as she digs deeper into a sex trade of kidnapped young eastern European girls forced to give up their bodies for unimaginable cruelties, accruing points to a freedom they'll never earn. Instead of busting up the trafficking, peacekeeping corps actively participate in its unholy commerce, pouring the paychecks they earn to protect the city's people into its most illicit and inhumane fringes, buying nights with the girls and taking bribes to keep the brothels in operation.
Finding its heart and fulcrum in Bolkovac's relationship with a kidnapped Polish girl named Raya, who agrees to help the investigation despite the threat -- and deliverance -- of gross physical and sexual consequences, the film sees the odds stacked higher against Bolkovac every turn she takes, as she's shunned by coworkers and thwarted by higher ups. Only through the help of a kind woman working at the UN, played by Vanessa Redgrave, does she get anywhere in the investigation, but even then, the risks she takes are vast.
"It's her character that leads her to what she did, as she's unraveling this cobweb of lies and corporate corruption, the State Department covering for the corporation, covering for the private contractor, covering for the UN, she's unraveling this web because it's her job," Weisz says, recalling the reverence she grew for the woman whom she was playing. "And if you ask Kathy why she did what she did, she didn't think she was saving the world or going to get a movie made about her, she literally said 'I was doing my job, I was investigating crime.' And she didn't think she was doing anything special. I was talking to someone earlier today and they said yeah, that's often what war heroes say... There's something so moving and extraordinary about that, I think that's drama at its most interesting."
Weisz didn't learn these details from afar; lucky for her, she has Bolkovac on set nearly the entire shoot.
"She came on set about a week into filming, so I spent every waking moment I could with her," Weisz remembers fondly. "I would say, 'What would you do in this situation? What would you say here?' She would help me out. She also has a great sense of humor, and there's obviously not a vast amount of places in the film to use that, but she loves life, she's not a workaholic. And she's very unpretentious, maybe that's a Midwestern thing... she's so not full of herself, she's so straight talking and unpretentious."
That humble nature belies the depth of her heroism; at every turn, there is another colleague, commander or higher up there to stop her and strike fear into the hearts of the tortured-into-silence girls. That this comes from an organization trusted to be the world's moral compass, by those wearing the seal associated with post-war reconstruction, famine relief and the end to suffering, leaves a viewer slack jawed and angry; that, as the movie points out, it continues to this day, haunts the conscience.
Its impact on Weisz was enduring; having been offered the film a number of years ago, a pregnant Weisz initially turned it down, but could not shake it loose, even amid all the other scripts she read.
"I just couldn't get the story out of my mind, I was just very haunted by it," Weisz remembers. "And I just kept thinking about it and I just kept thinking about it and finally after two years, I just thought oh my god I just have got to find out about this project, so I called the producer and I said, 'Hey, remember that project, is it still around?' And she said 'Hmm, give me a minute,' and she called whomever, where it was embroiled wherever, I don't know the details, and she said yup, we can make it, and just within a few months, we were filming it."
Just as Bolkovac's instincts led her to root out the crime, Weisz's saw the unique opportunity presented by the film, both in character and message.
"I just couldn't get it out of my mind, because there are just not many roles like that out there, if any."
Directed by Larysa Kondracki, "The Whistleblower" hits theaters on August 5th.
WATCH an exclusive clip below: