One of the review pull quotes I originally saw for The Whistlers noted that it was like something the Coen brothers would make “if [they] were Romanian.” That automatically sold me on it, and my anticipation for the film skyrocketed. Maybe I shouldn’t have set such high hopes.
It’s not that The Whistlers is a bad movie; it’s just one that never quite finds its footing. It’s effectively shot and captures the noir feel. There is a lot to like about it. But, as a whole, it doesn’t engage the viewer as well as it should have.
The film follows a police inspector named Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), who also happens to be working undercover for the mafia. An assignment has Cristi investigating the disappearance of 30 million euros ($34.3 million in U.S. dollars), but his method of communication has to be altered so he isn’t ousted. He is then trained on an old technique in which people communicated through whistling. And it’s not as simple as Lauren Bacall made it sound in To Have and Have Not. Cristi is shown how to whistle in certain tones that mean they are calling for a person by name, detailing a location or task, or for any other reason. It’s a rather unique way of communicating to people, and even one of which I was not aware. But that doesn’t help the movie overcome its rather meandering storytelling.
Cristi is first introduced to this new method of communication through the beautiful Gilda (Catrinel Marlon). She’s the femme fatale type that is required for every noir-like movie, and she’s excellent in her performance. There’s a lot of intrigue to her character, but a subplot involving the relationship between her and Cristi can’t decide if it wants to get them more involved or just have them be partners with some benefits.
And then there’s the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the money. Director Corneliu Porumboiu delivers a lot of setup for the film, but gives the viewer very little payoff. There’s never enough motive for the audience to get involved with a lot of the characters Cristi and Gilda meet along the way, nor is there much spark for the film’s story that has everything required for the noir genre. Deception, intrigue, and everything else on the checklist is there, but it doesn’t resonate to anything worthwhile.
The performances by the film’s two leads are noteworthy, and there is an exciting chase near the end of the film that is fun to watch. But, as a whole, The Whistlers doesn’t bring much new to the noir genre. It’s simply just fine, even though I wish it amounted to more.
The Whistlers arrives on DVD and digital on July 21