The Whistleblower

Strong role model in otherwise disturbing, depressing movie.
  • Review Date: August 5, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 112 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie illustrates the depth and breadth of corruption and cruelty -- apparently based on real incidents -- in even the most respected organizations on earth. It also depicts some racial and/or cultural discrimination. It's a bit overwhelming and depressing, but the movie also shows how one brave, caring person can make changes.

Positive role models

Kathryn is a very strong role model, though the movie's intense, graphic nature means younger teens won't be able to "meet" her. She has a troubled past but works hard to correct that and earn the right to see her daughter again. She won't allow corruption or laziness to interfere with her work in Bosnia and Herzegovina; she does her best, all the time, and truly seems to care. She faces danger, makes ethical choices, and strives to overcome challenges.


The movie depicts the trafficking of teen girls and shows many disturbing images related to this topic. There's a horrifying rape sequence; though no graphic details are shown, the scene focuses on the victim's terror and screams. There are suggestions of prostitution, drugs, and torture (with shots of needles and condoms). Teen girls are shown to be cut, bruised, and battered. The most horrifying images are seen in Polaroid pictures. One girl is shot point blank in the head, with a spray of blood. Viewers see threats, fighting, ruthless pummeling, and dead bodies.


Some of the teen victims are seen naked in Polaroid photos, mostly topless, though there are quick, hard-to-see shots of other regions. There are strong suggestions of teen prostitution. The main character sleeps with a married man (she doesn't realize it at the time) in a scene that includes groping, kissing, and the partial removing of clothes.


"F--k" is heard at least a dozen times; "s--t," "bitch," and "Jesus Christ" are used less frequently.


Quick shots of a U-Haul truck and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In early scenes, law enforcement officials are shown blowing off steam by drinking beer and/or smoking cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this downbeat drama -- which is based on a true story about human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999 -- features disturbing violence involving the teenage victims, who are tortured and brutalized (though most of this is suggested rather than actually shown). A rape sequence focuses on the victim's screams and terror rather than on graphic details of the act, but in another shot, a man shoots a girl point blank in the head (with sprays of blood). Nudity (mostly toplessness) is shown via Polaroid photos but never actually onscreen. The heroine has sex with one of her co-workers, whom (she finds out later) is married. Language includes many uses of "f--k," plus "s--t" and more. The heroine (Rachel Weisz) -- a police officer who wants to save the girls but winds up uncovering layer upon layer of corruption -- is a strong role model, and the material is well-researched and undoubtedly powerful, but this movie is far too intense and depressing for kids or younger teens.

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

In 1999, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a cop in Lincoln, Neb., who has lost her daughter in a divorce settlement. She agrees to take a high-paying job as a "peacekeeper" in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she quickly realizes that laziness and corruption rule the day. Her training and ethics don't allow her to lie down on the job, so she starts working hard. She soon discovers a human trafficking ring in which teen girls are tortured and sold as sex slaves and starts looking for ways to shut it down. In the meantime, Kathryn becomes personally attached to two Ukrainian girls, which brings more trouble and heartache. Worse, the depth and breadth of the corruption is far more considerable than she could have possibly imagined.

Is it any good?


Ukrainian-Canadian filmmaker Larysa Kondracki makes her feature writing and directing debut with THE WHISTLEBLOWER, and it seems to be straddling two Hollywood traditions. It wants to be a true story with a powerful, active female lead -- like Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich, and North Country. But it also wants to be a potboiler, using factual elements as part of a typical thriller (All the President's Men, JFK, The Insider). Unfortunately, the thriller stuff is very soft, and the docudrama stuff is too focused on "Oscar moments" (i.e. huge expressions of outrage and torment).


Yet Kondracki has clearly done some research here, and in between the awkward moments of finding bugs in phones and stealing satchels full of classified documents, the movie carefully tells a horrifying tale of human trafficking and the severe cruelty it inflicts in exchange for a massive profit. If the movie serves a purpose, aside from Weisz's powerhouse performance, it's to impart information about this important issue.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's graphic violence. What impact does it have? Would showing additional details have changed that impact? How?

  • Is the type of trafficking/prostitution shown here about sex, or is it more about power and money? Why?

  • What's the appeal of dark, serious movies? How often do you choose those over lighter fare? Why?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 5, 2011
DVD release date:January 24, 2012
Cast:David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci, Rachel Weisz
Director:Larysa Kondracki
Studio:Samuel Goldwyn Company
Run time:112 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language

This review of The Whistleblower was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written byTreok April 5, 2012
age 16+

Movie Critics should get a life. This movie needs to be seen

This movie is TOO important not to be seen. Some critics seem not to care about Exploitation of women, and think they could make a better movie. Critics don't make movies, why? because they have no talent. This movie is too important to be criticized, and needs to be promoted for the extremely serious content.
Parent Written byjuffy October 20, 2011
age 17+


What other families should know
Great messages


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass