The Whistlers is an artful take on the action genre that heavily relies on inspiration from classic cinema — such as the suspenseful noir thrillers of old. The film builds its tension with vibrant hues that capture the island setting and a killer soundtrack, featuring the sound of classic rockers like Izzy Pop. Despite being pretty to look at and pleasant to listen to, the ending completely fizzles out. I don’t believe this lack of resolution is what writer and director Corneliu Porumboiu was going for.
The film introduces its every-man protagonist Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) as he arrives at an extravagant island in the Canary Islands. It is immediately established that despite him being the main character, this everyday policeman has ambiguous morals as Cristi’s reasons for being in such a remote location is ultimately to break a criminal out of prison. Why? Money: the thought at the forefront of every guy in an action film’s brain. In order for this prison break to be successful, Cristi must master a language that is not taught in any classroom. This means for communication includes putting your finger in your mouth, spitting, growling, and whistling. Despite the odd facial features that are required in order to master this language, it is somewhat sacred to the few people that are able to use it and Cristi is given the honor of entering into this secret group.
Though Cristi’s thoughts are not broadcast to the audience through voice over, there are other elements that are common of the film noir: multiple double agents, mobster involvement, and the incredible femme fatale portrayed by Catrinel Marlon. Gilda — no doubt a nod at the 1946 Rita Hayworth film — is what keeps the story alive. Her beauty is obvious but becomes an afterthought after about five minutes when her talent proves to be more than skin deep. Marlon is not just an actor that should be a Bond girl, she has the talent of the next James Bond and her performance in The Whistlers is her audition for the role.
The most frustrating part of The Whistlers is how captivating all the details are just to fall completely flat in the end. For example, there is an incredible amount of detail that goes into introducing each character, including color-coded on-screen announcements that seem like a vital piece of understanding the story. This use of title cards ended up being a huge distraction from the film, making this concept seem more flashy than necessary.
The Whistlers is an entertaining exercise on attempting to recreate and pay homage to the noir film genre, and I understand why Romania chose this new release to represent the country in the upcoming awards season. I am thankful that The Whistlers introduced me to Catrinel Marlon and look forward to seeing what she does next because she deserves a lead role in a film that focuses only on her. Did I mention James Bond?