Daily Film Thoughts: Whistle Blowing

Whistle blowing means a lot of things.

Occasionally a movie comes out which seems impossible to describe. It reaches us on such an inherent level that we think that a piece of art has touched our very soul; that it is no longer a movie, but rather a part of us. And occasionally the opposite happens where we reject a film with our entire being and more because it’s a condescendingly inept bullshit redoubled with contradictions and exploitation aplenty which should have never have ever been made… ever. This is one of those two – to give you a hint as to which it is a word I’d use to describe it lays in the film’s title: The Whistleblower.

This movie opens on a scene with two Croatian teenagers unengaged in the art of conversation which is as esoterically written as it is inversely ominous in its foreshadowing. “You should do it,” the more zealous teen says “you don’t want to live here forever, do you?” she caps off indolently. Next thing you know the two are getting fake passports put together so that they can “serve” in Bosnia. Alright, first, these people are really stupid. I mean, you’re getting fake passports done by a shady, easy-to-anger guy in a room void of any life apart from the shady guy’s wife who looks at you as if to say DON’T DO IT YOU’LL BE SORRY. Oh, they absorb her intrepid looks, but never realize that, hey, this isn’t a good idea.

Boom, we’re in Nebraska now. Our protagonist, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is cutely wording her way to the direct implications of what’s happening in her life – her husband’s leaving with her children, yet she doesn’t want to lose her shit because along with Eilis Kirwan, writer/director Larysa Kondracki would rather be obnoxiously artificial and banal in writing dialogue for her characters than be expository which, to be fair is annoying, but not as annoying as smarmily diverting the matter at hand. For a good percentage of the scene you’re sitting there thinking that the husband and children are leaving for some vacation — the direction is sunny enough and the conversation flippant enough to interpret as this — but no, they’re leaving because Kathryn is too closed off from her family because of her work. Okay, cool, an interesting female dynamic is going to be shown — the career-dedicated nepotist who is misunderstood by man. Girl power.

A few scenes later when she’s stationed in Bosnia because it pays a lot more than being a cop in Nebraska (money = providing for her children better, noble enough) she’s handily seduced by a coworker at a pinball machine. How? I DON’T KNOW. HE MIGHT HAVE TAUGHT HER PINBALL FROM WHAT I SAW.

Boom, next scene they’re having sex in her room which is shot with a grungy filter that does nothing at all. It isn’t foreshadowing something bad – the guy is perhaps the most genuine of all that we see in the movie (we don’t know this, I just assume it from the transparent dumbness of the guy) – it’s just artsy.

Then we cut back to Croatia where the teenage girl’s mother is worried as to the whereabouts of her daughter who, when she last saw, cussed her off for being restrictive (original) and which (doesn’t) give the desire to see her daughter safe and sound again the sentiment it desires. Actually, although this storyline is pretty stupid too, the most sincere thing about it is the performance by Jeanette Hain as the mother, Slava. Her concern is quite real and despite being forced into a character who only worries a lot and finds outrage in one of the film’s many attempts at “plot twists” she presents herself rather well and is one of the only aspects of the film which come out clean after this shitstorm.

So Kathryn is championing feminism in a country without it. We’re shown women with their faces brutally bashed in and policies that we know are wrong. A woman comes into a hospital seven times bludgeoned within an inch of her life and we learn that it’s her fault unless there’s undeniable proof that she wasn’t in the wrong. No one wants to prove that she was in the right, Kathryn does and becomes a hero of the movement. Yep – the woman who treats her body as currency for a few beers and forgettable pinball pointers is the leader of a female rights movement. That could be a really interesting contradiction to discuss if the filmmakers weren’t too busy showing us women getting shot in the head for being insubordinate and raped with pipes for wanting freedom. The only mystery here is “Which hole did it go in?” because before that there’s no sleuthing or curiosity as to who is perpetrating these morally wrong acts against women. We know whose doing it really early into the film — fellow Peace Workers (oooooooh) — and then the plot gets sillier.

Monica Bellucci is unrecognizable as herself at fifty and David Strathairn is the nice guy.

At the end of the film — before the final scene in which we’re shown the opening scene again but more sentimentally scored so that we may be reminded of the emotion that the filmmaker wants us to feel — Kathryn is asked whether she regrets what she did or not on a talk show. What she did cost her the ability to find employment as a police officer again or anything other job with which to protect community, but she unflinchingly replies yes. Boom, feminism; boom, strong morals; boom, a woman to admire. But then, a huge concern in this film is her being with her daughter — at one point she cites this as the reason she cares about woman’s rights which is as stupid as it sounds, maybe even more so — and at the end she doesn’t get that because she just can’t do it anymore apart from trips that she takes to visit her in the Netherlands or whatever small encounters they get to have from there-on-out. Know what would make for a far more fascinating story? That one. The one where a woman has to feel that for all of the good she did for a gender in a country that she loses on a more personal level and can never feel complete ever again because of those decisions. Sort of like Nothing But The Truth except more interesting because greed wasn’t the motive and her martyrdom not false.

This movie is bereft of what it takes to make a great movie and without most of what it takes to make a bad one. And if anyone has a problem with this review, it was a review in the least formal way possible. There is no way to pontificate what is so wrong with a movie that is so wrong, so I’ve resorted to this. This is just one of those movies that never should have been. To exaggerate only slightly, Larysa Kondracki should willingly renounce her gender a la Gainsbourg in Antichrist for this entirely counterproductive attempt at feminist art.

Lenny opens on a woman being interviewed retrospectively about her relationship with Lenny Bruce. Honey(Valerie Perrine) doesn’t speak about him with sentimentality, but rather like if he and her had just been momentarily disconnected during their passages through life. This film was made in 1974 – Lenny Bruce had died eight years earlier.

If you know the briefest history of Lenny Bruce — he was a failed stand-up comedian before he started to unpolitically rant on stage, he married a stripper and developed the life of a rock star (adultery, drug abuse, self-loath, etc.) — then you know the entirety of this feature. All of these understood character traits of the hard rolling entertainer aren’t particularly delved into and what we get is a portrait of the most influential comedian of all time filled in with poke-a-dots rather than an entirely shaded one. We see him fail on stage at the beginning, be entirely enchanted with a stripper based on her appearance — love at first sight is never implied here, so it plays off completely superficially — and being a part of a car crash which resulted in the death of a woman. The problem with this, like most biopics, is that it isn’t a representation of a person but rather a passing on of the major events in their life. There’s no intimate account of the inner being here — Hoffman does his best early on with his gentle eyes and succeeds where the script does not — because there is no intimate account. In fact, Lenny’s story isn’t the most interesting one because we sift through his life transitively and never get Lenny Bruce the person – only Lenny Bruce the guy that things happened to and then died. To speak impersonally for a moment – I really wish writers would learn that an important person does not equal an interesting story.

However, Honey’s story has anything but these faults. Sure, we may not know anything of her outside of her experiences with Lenny, but she is examined with the utmost scrutiny and is given an emotional backbone. She is in constant flux because Lenny is constantly fluctuating (why? I don’t know – read above as for why) and tries to sustain her love with him despite what he wants at the time. Her scope is micro where Lenny’s is macro and while no pleasurable rhythm ever coalesces between the two the face value juxtaposition is pretty nice. The same can be said for the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine who brilliantly represent many feelings and one line of feeling, respectively. Again, like the difference between how their stories function, Hoffman’s is too bolstered to ever hit you as more than a representation whereas Perrine’s is a more soulful and replete turn.

Though Bob Fosse did do a brilliant thing by leaving his camera far-off and stagnant during Lenny’s last destructive stand up routine there is little by way of iconography for the film because black-and-white cinematography doesn’t naturally intimate atmosphere. On a whole, this is a pretty by-the-numbers story that I’m actually surprised by in that it was as successful as it was upon its release — six Oscar nominations, Best Actress at Cannes and several other industry lauds — simply because Lenny Bruce’s death was still a talking point at the time. Everybody knew of his life — at least the significant events of which this films sews together as its narrative — and really, if anything, this is the kind of film that would peak in appreciation decades after the release when talks about Lenny Bruce had ended and knowledge of the man stilled. For the film viewer ignorant to Lenny Bruce’s life this film would play out tremendously. It’s written and directed with a sense that the protagonist lives through the entirety and offers a glimpse at the original bad boy. For many today this should play out very well as a candid look at the destructive mores of the fast-living, with Charlie Sheen’s recently absurd nascence I think a tale like this might be at its most recognizable, but for some (like me) it might just not hold up as a narrative simply because it isn’t a narrative but the most interesting parts of an man’s lifestory ripped out and stapled together interpolated with an effectively simple look at a woman’s undying love and self-inflicted tragedy. Either way you’ll be taken with the great acting.

If you’ve seen Last Tango In Paris, you’ve seen a better version of this film. Directed by French provocateur Patrice Chereau, Intimacy is the story of a man and a woman who have sex every Wednesday at around 2pm, who know not each others’ names and who don’t speak to one and other. This trend began when they hooked up one afternoon and the woman, later named Claire (Kerry Fox) decided to show up at the same time each week. Because her intentions aren’t particularly known until the final act the film relies on Jay’s contemplation of their relationship. At once he’ll regard it as something throwaway, incendiary to his freedom and crucial to his existence. Therefore Jay is a very contemplative character – if a bit difficult to tolerate given what he does throughout for no particular reason other than he doesn’t know what else to do – and because of this the audience is treated to a mesmerizing physicality of Mark Rylance.

Mainly what this film is about is hedonists awash with self-inflicted problems. There isn’t any particular theme to be offered — sex is wonderful might be the only thing — and if you’re looking for a feature with an ending that will deliver you’ll be peeved by the random ambiguity it offers (a split screen of Claire leaving or staying) and considering all of this it isn’t a bad movie. It isn’t a good movie, but it isn’t nearly as offensive as you might anticipate an NC 17 feature with nothing to really say to be.

As it is essentially an extension of Last Tango In Paris, this 2001 flick is mostly about the man stalking the woman because he becomes progressively needy — or rather, wanty. The first 30 minutes establish Jay’s routine, his gripes and his relationships by way of coldly bouncing from scene to scene – only offering him to be thoughtful in between the bits important to the set up. After this marginally extended first act, Jay begins to stalk Claire. This is an excellent scene depreciated by Chereau’s poor choice in music. Sadly, that isn’t an isolated incident.

When Jay finds out Claire is an aspiring actress and has a husband (Timothy Spall) and child he immediately familiarizes himself with her family which goes unbeknown to her. What results are a few scenes where Jay belligerently toys with Claire’s husband who is too sweet a man to deter Jay’s extemporaneous ravings or indirectly direct cruelty. Watching Timothy Spall squirm indecisively when Jay alludes that he’s possibly been screwing his wife is the real highlight of this otherwise middling feature. The interplay between Rylance and Spall in said scenes – there’s more than one, and though pretty redundant, they are the most enjoyable aspect of the feature so I say the more the better – is fantastic and while the unbelievable dialogue does hamper their emotional inundations it isn’t nearly as vitiating because performers synergy is brilliant. It’s them who create the mood and not Chereau. Unfortunately this is the case for far too much of the film.

Although marked by insincerity and accusatory writing, the actors manage to convey honest emotion with which we may feel real sincerity. Because the cast is mired with cold, invasive dialogue which represents only the screenwriter’s inability to trust that his actors could convey thought tacitly these moments only come at speechless times. Rylance has a peculiar countenance which is perfect for a bemused character; Fox’s is similar but represents a form of hedonism that is more, well, earnest because her character’s husband becomes suddenly becomes a heel in the final few scenes; and Spall, well, Spall just crushes every scene he’s in and gives all those watching a lesson on how to act. It’s a performance piece from head to toe and one of the few contemporary films that would translate better as a silent feature. 

Although it’s unfair to write so little about the best film of the four, I feel there’s little to comment on when it comes to Midnight Cowboy. This review will mostly just be a memory tool for me to recall what I like about the movie, so you can skip this review and read some other blogger’s more insightful one if you’d like.

What makes this film is Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Rico Rizzo. He’s got the Bugs Bunny voice going full tilt, a pimp limp and a life so repulsive that it would make Lee Daniels squirm. The protagonist, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) isn’t a particularly interesting character on the surface, but the script and direction aggressively ply into his background with barely palpable combination flashbacks. Voight’s performance is a tricky thing because he doesn’t have the theatrical license that Hoffman does and the character is pretty much stuck on one gear through the entirety because his past has altered him to be as such – that’s made damn clear and Schlesinger gets my ultimate respect for conveying that flawlessly – so Voight is stuck in a kind of predicament. He does very well for the most part – Hoffman makes him step up his game when they’re together, that’s evident in how Voight composes himself so openly because Hoffman makes us believe that Rico is being so open, too – but I can’t help but feel if there were an actor with more expressive eyes in the lead role that we’d have a slightly better film.

The only gripe I have with the movie is the party sequence which tends to drag and become tedious in juxtaposing Buck’s duality with Rico’s singularity. It’s overly garish and mostly useless in the grand scheme of things.

All in all this is a beautiful film with one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen. For as rigorous and unremittingly bleak as this film is I’m surprised it won Best Picture in 1969. Then again that was the year where the Academy nominated They Shoot Horses Don’t They? and Z. I wish they’d show their bravura more.

On a final note, I saw Jakob der Lugner over a year ago and loved its ending. With time I’d forgotten how I interpreted its ambiguity and last night I spent a good half an hour reconstructing my thoughts on it. Yeah, it’s one of the finest endings ever which poses the most interesting, yet commonly asked questions – “What good is there to lie?” Beautifully ambiguous – I miss Vlastimil Brodsky. If you care about my opinion at all, you should check out 2001’s Autumn Spring. Wonderful performance – the man was a true legend.

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5 thoughts on “Daily Film Thoughts: Whistle Blowing

  1. Marle says:

    Got to disagree with your review of the Whistle Blower, i though it was fantastic. A truly moving and disturbing film Rachel Weisz truly shines here and the subject matter is ponigant.

    • forizzer69 says:

      Funny you say that because I knew the second I posted this review I’d get a reply or two or three with a contrasting opinion as it seems that everyone who has posted a bad review of this movie has been treated with vitriol.

      I’m not saying you don’t have your opinion – cool, whatever – but part of me absolutely believes that people a part of the film’s production or those who want/need it to succeed are going out of their way to project a positive image in the most obscure of places.

  2. Marle says:

    I don’t work for the studio if you must know. I saw this film in Santa Barbara Independent Film Festival and i took a friend who thought the movie was just OK, nothing special. If you believe that there is some kind of conspiracy from the production company to sell this film, then i don’t know what to say. For what i was told, outside of screenings for festivals, its only coming out in a very limited number of theaters towards the end of the summer. So i don’t see a studio wasting their time and resources on web blogs trying to spin a positive image on a film that will be barely seen by the public. They don’t need to get their money back because it was made on the cheap as well, so there is no studio panicking to get a profit back anytime soon.

    If there are people defending it, maybe because they actually liked it. I liked it and i wrote what i felt. There are people like yourself who did not like it and wrote what they felt as well. Do i think you and those people have an agenda to spin a negative image on the film? No, because just like me, you are giving an OPINION.

    There has been positive reviews for this film as well. But hey, maybe they are spinning it to give a positive image. God knows they need to sell it (Sarcasm)

    Take it easy and enjoy your weekend.

    • forizzer69 says:

      Given that perspective you might be surprised what some PR are made to do on blogs and forums to get a good image of a film across. I’ve seen a few reviews for this film on blogs with an otherwise small readership getting berated by three or four other people just coming on to defend this one movie. Look at my blog for example. I’ve derided a good amount of films and the only one that I can think of that got people replying with their opinion was Toy Story 3 which was a review a lot of people could have gotten to as I linked it along with a reply saying that I agreed with another critic.

      Of course people are entitled to opinions. I’m not suggesting conspiracy, but rather an idea that that’s what some people are doing. How does one even find this blog? This review? And so quickly after it’d been posted?

      I’m not being confrontational but I feel that this is an actual thing. A fellow blogger of mine told me that he had been harassed by some people emailing him about how he saw the film from outraged people. That hadn’t happened in his whole ‘career’ as a critic. You see what I’m saying?

      Love the film all you want. That’s clearly fine. Are you attending LAFF this year by any chance?

  3. Marle says:

    No unfortunately. Too busy with other things to attent.

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