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TIFF 2023 Review: Death of a Whistleblower – “So much potential”

Courtesy of TIFF

Death of a Whistleblower starts off so unexpectedly with such intrigue and mystery.  A woman on a military base is in an argument, running out of her house, barefoot, she is met by a group of men in hazmat suits.  She starts bleeding from her eyes and eventually succumbs to whatever ailment has caused the hemorrhaging.  This introduction though gives false promises on a thriller than never quite builds more than this moment does.

We fast forward 37 years later when an informant within the South African military comes across this footage.  He makes copies and heads to an Internet cafe to send it to an editor, Stanley (Rob van Vuuren) who in turn tries to recruit Luyanda Masinda (Noxolo Dlamini).  She has been striking out in pitching stories to her own editor, who is too afraid of retribution to publish her exposés.  “Journalism is printing something someone else doesn’t want published,” she notes, yet unknowing how the upcoming events investigating the death of that woman 37 years ago will change her life forever.

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Director Ian Gabriel works from a screenplay from four different writers (Louis Viljoen, Marius Scholtz, Philip Roberts, and Kelly Eve Koopman) and perhaps that’s part of the reason that this script feels a bit convoluted and disjointed at times. The introductory scene becomes of minimal consequence as the depth of deception and corruption they try to create goes so deep it starts to evade one’s ability to track the plot.  Chemical weapons are involved, private military groups (even bringing the Wagner group into it at the end, though a timely inclusion), and government cover-ups.  Thankfully our informant (Irshaad Ally) has an endless supply of burner phones to keep everyone up to speed.

The bright spot in this film is lead Noxolo Dlamini who shoulders much of the hard work on her more than capable shoulders.  Her performance is confident and assured, unlike some others in the cast.  Her scenes with her conveniently tech-savvy friend Astha (Kathleen Stevens) are some of the best here.

There is so much potential in Death of a Whistleblower, so many building blocks that are just waiting to be constructed in a way that makes this film work better.  A tighter edit would help to save itself from its long run time, which feels even longer.  But likely it would make it feel more like the thriller it could be, and wants to be.

Death of a Whistleblower has its world premiere at TIFF on Saturday, September 9, 2023.  For more information please go to

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