Friday 6 December 2019

"The Whistleblower" (Guardian 06/12/19)

The Whistleblower **
Dir: Xiaolu Xue. With: Jiayin Lei, Wei Tang, Xi Qi, John Batchelor. 134 mins. Cert: 15

At once wild and hopelessly clunky, this prospective pan-Pacific blockbuster about mining trade skulduggery proves far less notable for what it has to say about business than for the kind of business it represents. A Chinese-Australian co-production, Xiaolu Xue’s thriller means to sell back to the West what traditionally gets exported East: it rents pricey locations, and fills them with actors from both countries of origin, one in ten of whom speaks English with any degree of naturalness. Watching it is like trying to interpret a trade agreement run repeatedly through Google Translate; what money couldn’t buy, in this instance, was coherence or finesse.

The plot doesn’t so much trot as lurch violently around the globe, jettisoning logic at each turn. It opens in a Malawi composed of equal parts stock footage and green screen, where doughy middle-aged hero Mark (Jiayin Lei) is assigned to manage the aftermath of a gas explosion and strays with old flame Zhou (Wei Tang, a long way from Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution). A Chinese layover establishes a boardroom cover-up and Zhou’s apparent death in a plane crash; thereafter, we’re off to Melbourne for a Bourne-again runaround, with Mark pursued by Ross Kempalikes for intel that hasn’t been properly established. Here at least Xue looks more assured, assisted by the car-smashing expertise of former Fast & Furious crew: their top-dollar write-offs require no dialogue or explanation.

Codswallop though it is, it retains a funny sort of energy for an hour, refusing to travel in any of the expected directions; those avenues it does pursue – the hero’s past as a rower, his wife’s VFX career – make no more sense than anything else. Arguably these are the idiosyncrasies that are now test-screened out of Western event movies, but The Whistleblower starts to feel needlessly woolly by the end, and British viewers may find one particular script quirk impassable. Much as 1999’s Ashley Judd vehicle Double Jeopardy never recovered from naming its villain Nicholas Parsons, Xue’s film suffers from laundering its onscreen moolah through the accounts of one Tom Baker. The film is so wackadoo you wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth Doctor materialised somewhere en route to claim his own payday. 

The Whistleblower opens in selected cinemas from today.

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