Make no mistake: The Whistleblower is a cookie-cutter Hollywood political drama/thriller with little originality. Sure, the film may be based on a true story, and a very sensational one at that, but unfortunately the director uses all the well-known tools of the trade to tell it. However, something struck me as extraordinary, otherwise I wouldn’t be mentioning it here, considering I watch movies all the time.
It’s the lead character I found the most exciting thing about the entire movie. Not the lead actress, mind you. Rachel Weisz is gorgeous, no doubt about it, and she does a great job, but it takes more than the performance to create a character; it takes a concept. In my opinion, the cinematic representation of Kathryn Bolkovac is one of the best attempts at depicting a truly feminist heroine.
Here are some things I liked about her:
1. She doesn’t go to Bosnia because she is naive or thinks it is a great career move; she goes there for her family. Yet, at the same time, she doesn’t always prioritize her family but remains loyal to what she is passionate about.
2. Early on in the film she starts a casual affair with a man she meets at a bar – not your typical morally flawless Hollywood heroine. She has that in common with Erin Brockovich, and I have to say, I prefer a woman with desires to the picture-perfect super wife or Jodie Foster’s weird asexuality in most of her roles.
3. Most importantly: she is emotional. It’s just so much easier to depict a kick-ass heroine the same way as one would depict a kick-ass hero: cool and detached, always having a witty response to every situation and solving problems with violence, if need be. Kathryn Bolkovac is not like that. She is often close to tears (understandably, considering what she is confronted with), she is aware that she’s just a small cog in the wheel, and while she keeps on fighting, she often is at a loss and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Thus, she makes many mistakes and has to face more than one ethical dilemma. Doesn’t sound so great, does it? But at least it sounds authentic. It makes her a real person, instead of just a flawless fantasy figure. And this is the kind of woman I want to see in a movie: a real person with everything that entails, with emotions, flaws, strengths and weaknesses.
Anita Sarkeesian has summed it up beautifully in one of her Feminist Frequency videos on the lead character of True Grit:
“The feminism I subscribe to and work for involves more than women and their fictional representations simply acting like men. Or unquestioningly replicating archetypal male values, such as being emotionally inexpressive, the need for domination and competition, and using violence as a form of conflict resolution. In my feminist vision, part of what makes a character feminist is watching her struggle with prioritizing values, such as cooperation, empathy, compassion, and non-violent conflict resolution in a world largely hostile to those values. […] I want characters who are subtle, who make mistakes, and who don’t always do everything right.” (Watch it here.)
And here is the trailer for The Whistleblower. As you can see, it doesn’t reveal anything about the main character’s vulnerability. I guess emotional heroines don’t make for good advertising: