With a whole heap of plot elements in play but hardly any actual story, The Whistlers feels like a mid-season episode of a lavish crime show stretched out to feature length. Using the classic noir tropes of corruption, compromise, and a protagonist in way over his head, Corneliu Porumboiu’s thriller embraces the murky confusion of the genre without doing anything interesting with it, getting more boring and less consequential as it goes on. It’s a choppy and eventually tedious ride that, even while running at only just over 90 minutes, seems to go on forever.
Split, rather pointlessly, into a series of title-carded chapters, The Whistlers follows corrupt Bucharest cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) as he gets caught between a Spanish criminal outfit and his fellow officers, who are also corrupt but a different kind of corrupt. Falling in love with gangster’s moll Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), Cristi attempts to play both sides against each other to rescue Gilda and net himself a €30 million payday. There’s a lot going on in The Whistlers but, counterintuitively, nothing seems to actually happen. This isn’t uncommon in noir, of course, but the better entries in the genre at least have a semblance of urgency and thrill to their set-pieces, as well as characters you care about.
Everyone in The Whistlers is simply a cypher, their main personality trait either ‘criminal’ or ‘sexy’. A set-piece in which Cristi attempts to escape the Spanish gang before getting chased down in a dawn-lit car chase should be thrilling, and we should wince at least a little when he’s nearly drowned for his disloyalty, but these events (though beautifully shot) don’t raise the pulse at all. There is excitement to be found in the pulpy first 15 minutes, with priest disguises, a criminals-only motel, and a horny surveillance operative, but this all fades into the background as The Whistlers becomes lost in its own opaqueness.
The title refers to the coded language of clicks, whistles, and hisses that the gang learn on the Canary Islands, and whilst it is initially funny to watch Cristi try and master it, it becomes too much of a crutch for the film’s dry humour, which otherwise lacks jokes. Some slick stylistic moments aside, there’s very little to hold your attention in the second half of The Whistlers and when the expensive-looking but empty denouement arrives, you’ll be well past caring.
Written and Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Starring; Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar
Runtime: 97 mins