Death of a Whistleblower is awaiting a UK and International release date.
The history of South Africa is complex; it is rooted in colonialism and haunted by the years of Apartheid that segregated, oppressed and divided its people. As a result, at the end of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela introduced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Desmond Tutu. The Commission’s role was to identify the victims and perpetrators of South Africa’s brutal Apartheid past and its traumatic legacy.
However, as with many commissions established for the most honourable purposes, many felt the Commission lacked teeth and failed to fully unpick the years of social oppression within a framework of forgiveness rather than justice. At the time, and in the years since, many questions have remained unanswered in a country attempting to navigate its past and identify its future. In Death of a Whistleblower, South African director Ian Gabriel steps into this fractured political and social landscape with a thriller rooted in South Africa’s past and present.
When the spikey and confident investigative journalist Luyanda Masinda (Noxolo Dlamini) survives the assassination of a whistleblower colleague, she is forced into a political world of coverups dating back to the Apartheid regime. These coverups include military secrets, biological warfare and military assets held in private hands. But as Luyanda falls deeper into a dangerous rabbit hole, her options for escape narrow as those around her become targets for a secretive group that will stop at nothing to cover up their past and present actions.
Political thrillers like Death of a Whistleblower work best when they focus on the bravery of the individual in standing up to the state, company or entity that seeks to keep them silent, and it is here where Gabriel’s film works well. From the moment we meet Luyanda Masinda, we are rooting for her due to the outstanding and magnetic central performance of Noxolo Dlamini. Dlamini’s journalist is bold, strong and unwilling to back down despite the costs as she attempts to navigate a web of lies, intrigue, and political coercion. But this fiery performance is also coupled with moments of doubt, ,trauma and shock as Dlamini offers us a layered and complex character who defies simple labels. When you add to this moments of taut action, intrigue, engaging cinematography and sudden jolts of bloody violence, Gabriel’s film strikes gold on several occasions.
However, there are also moments where the tension Death of a Whistleblower has worked so hard to build is let down by a confused narrative path and an overlong runtime. Political thrillers work best when they keep us on our toes, playing with our assumptions while tieing us in knots as we run toward an uncertain conclusion. Unfortunately, Death of a Whistleblower too often loses focus, despite Dlamini’s performance as it strolls rather than runs toward its conclusion. Much of this is due to its overlong edit and a story that takes a few to many detours.
Death of a Whistleblower may struggle to maintain the pace needed to make it a genuinely taut political thriller. Yet its ability to generate discussions on South Africa’s past, present, and future is commendable, as is its ability to reflect the urgency and importance of holding truth to power no matter the cost.
Death of a Whistleblower may struggle to maintain the pace needed to make it a genuinely taut political thriller. Yet, its ability to generate discussions on South Africa’s past, present, and future is commendable, as is its ability to reflect the urgency and importance of holding truth to power no matter the cost.