With Oliver Stone’s Snowden in theaters (read our review), now seems like a good time to remember some other cinematic entries about other people who chose to blow the whistle on their employers-no matter the cost.
Serpico (1973) Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) and starring Al Pacino in the title role, it tells the true story of how NYPD officer Frank Serpico went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. It covers twelve years; 1960-1972. It was successful commercially and artistically receiving Academy Awards for Best Actor for Pacino and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also routinely comes up on lists of the best crime movies AND best movies of the 20th century period, as well as being considered a high mark to Lumet and Pacino’s careers.
The Insider (1999) Directed by Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral) and based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” 60 Minutes did a segment on Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe in one of his best performances) a whistleblower in the tobacco industry. His efforts to come forward were championed by CBS producer Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) despite efforts by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company to silence and discredit Wigand. It wasn’t a big hit commercially but highly lauded by critics and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009) Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith directed this documentary following Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, which detailed the military’s secret history in Vietnam. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. It won prizes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Boulder International Film Festival, the Sidney Film Festival, as well as snagging a Peabody Award.
The Whistleblower (2010) Directed by Larysa Kondracki (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul) and starring Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac an American police officer recruited by the United Nations to be a peacekeeper for DynCorp International in post-war Bosnia in 1999. Bolkovac discovered a sex trafficking ring that catered to and was facilitated by DynCorp employees while UN peacekeeping forces looked the other way. Bolkovac went public. It was nominated for three Genie Awards and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at both the Whistler Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival. Warning – because of the subject matter, this one is extremely violent, graphic, and incredibly dark.
War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State (2013) Directed by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Foundation it clocks it at just 66 minutes. War on Whistleblowers highlights several cases where government employees and contractors took cases of fraud and abuse to the media. All of them were penalized for it professionally and personally. It has a fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes with Variety magazine calling it “a sobering picture of a national security state.”
Top photo: Bigstock
The Light Between Oceans directed by Derek Cianfrance is a beautiful and heartbreaking film. The light refers to the lighthouse on Janus, a fictitious island off the coast of Australia where the Great Southern and Indian Oceans meet. Besides a physical presence, the lighthouse serves as a metaphor. Despite a guiding light, some people, like ships, are destined to veer off course.
There are no villains in The Light Between Oceans, based on M.L. Stedman’s bestselling novel, just good people making bad decisions. Life is never fair, but when humans attempt to correct that imbalance on their own, the damage can be devastating, inflicting pain on the innocent.
World War I has ended and Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia, a hero who suffers from survivor’s guilt. Why did he live when so many others died? Meeting with officials in the small town of Partageuse, Tom is presented with the opportunity to fill in for the lighthouse keeper on Janus. He takes the job, welcoming the isolation and solitude the remote island will provide.
A young woman in Partageuse, Isabel Graysmark, has other plans. After meeting Tom during a dinner at the harbormaster’s home, she elicits a promise that he will write to her while on Janus. Their letters become more intimate, Tom opening up to Isabel in ways that surprise him. When Tom’s six-month stint is up, he returns to Partageuse and takes Isabel on a picnic. She expresses a desire to see Janus. When he tells her that only his wife can live there with him, she proposes, undeterred by the prospect of living alone with Tom on the island. Tom is offered the post full-time and he and Isabel are married.
The film is perfectly cast with Michael Fassbender playing Tom and Alicia Vikander as Isabel. It’s no secret that the two actors fell in love during filming and are now together. Their chemistry on screen is palpable adding to the realism of this touching love story. Isabel not only loves Tom, but loves their life on Janus. Polar opposites, Tom and Isabel nonetheless seem perfectly matched. Their solitude only deepens their love affair and, in the process, Tom begins to find a life he never thought was possible. He loves Isabel to the depths of his soul, but he’s also a man with a conscience. His two sides will come into conflict, forcing him to make a decision that he will later regret. Tom is the strong and silent type and Fassbender’s facial expressions and body language speak volumes. We can sense the turmoil boiling underneath Tom’s stoic exterior. Believing that past deeds have doomed him to a life of suffering, he accepts, even welcomes, that outcome.
Tragedy strikes when Isabel’s first pregnancy ends in an early miscarriage. While her second pregnancy holds more promise, a spontaneous birth ends up in a stillborn son. Isabel is inconsolable, having told everyone in Partageuse that they were expecting, she dreads telling her parents, who lost two sons in the war, that their hopes for a grandchild are slim. She spends her days on a hill staring at the two small white crosses honoring their dead babies. Vikander, who won an Academy Award this year for her performance in The Danish Girl, demonstrates that recognition was no fluke. Her performance is mesmerizing, taking us inside Isabel’s vortex of feelings. While her love for Tom is clear, even stronger is her desire to be a mother, to create the family she promised him and herself when she made the decision to live on Janus.
Was it a coincidence, a test, or a cruel trick of fate? A small row boat lands on Janus carrying a dead man and a live infant. Tom’s first instinct is to record the event in the official log and contact the authorities. Isabel pleads with him to wait. A day turns into a few days. When it becomes clear to Tom that Isabel wants – needs – the baby she has named Lucy, he goes against his own judgment, burying the man and keeping the baby’s existence a secret.
Because Isabel was pregnant, Tom is able to tell Ralph and Bluey, the two men who visit Janus regularly to bring food and other supplies, that Lucy is theirs. Word gets back to Isabel’s parents who are eager to meet their grandchild. There’s a joyous greeting at the dock and a christening is planned. Outside the church before the vicar arrives, Tom sees a young woman kneeling before a headstone. After she leaves, he takes a look, startled to read the inscription: “In loving memory of Franz Johannes Roennfeldt, dearly beloved husband of Hannah, and of their precious daughter, Grace Ellen. Watched over by God.” Ralph explains to Tom that Hannah’s husband, an Austrian who was thought to be a German and targeted by locals still angry about the war, was chased down to the shore one evening. At Hannah’s urging, Franz took Grace and, hoping to escape the mob, jumped into a rowboat and pushed out into the inky waters. Franz and Grace were presumed lost at sea, leaving behind a grieving Hannah.
Tom is now hit with the full force of their actions. Their joy at having Lucy has come at another family’s expense. Tom and Isabel return to Janus, but he is haunted by Hannah’s despair. Years pass and the Sherbornes return to Partageuse for a celebration of the Janus lighthouse. Hannah and her sister, Gwen (Emily Barclay), daughters of the city’s wealthiest man, Sentimus Potts (Bryan Brown), are introduced to Isabel. Hannah is overcome with emotion upon seeing Lucy. Gwen explains to Isabel that Hannah’s daughter would have been Lucy’s age but was lost at sea with her father. Now Isabel also realizes the impact of that fateful decision. But, as she tells Tom, revealing the truth would mean disrupting Lucy’s life. Tom, however, remains conflicted and what he does next will set in motion events that will upend not only Lucy’s life but his and Isabel’s as well.
Rachel Weisz is perfect as Hannah, her anguish over losing her daughter matched only by her despair to win over her daughter later on. Yet perhaps the most effective player in the drama is Hannah’s dead husband, Franz (Leon Ford), who appears in flashbacks. Hannah once asked her husband how he could forgive those who wronged him. You only have to forgive once; but holding on to resentment lasts a lifetime. His answer resonates and will inspire Hannah to try to right so many wrongs.
The Light Between Oceans opens nationwide September 2, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Dreamworks