COMPLIANCE Review

Compliance brings up an interesting question: can the quality of a film still be great despite the fact one might be repulsed by the story it tells. Does the story have a real purpose? Does it mean more than to simply entertain? Is it teaching a lesson or giving a warning? What are the intentions of the film if we are engrossed by it yet doubtful it could ever truly happen even if the one thing we know and you need to know before seeing a frame of the film, is that this actually happened and happened many times. It is a string of questions that not only challenge you as you watch the film unravel, but it allows Compliance to be a film where you don't say that you "liked" it in the common sense of the word, but that you took something from it, were fascinated by it or that maybe you were in fact disgusted by it, think every character in it is stupid and would never watch the film again. The crazy thing is, I feel I can see justification for any one of these opinions and not feel inclined to inject my interpretation of the film as to why that opinion might differ from my own in one way or another. The overall accomplishment of the film though is to see  how far people will go, how much we will trust in authority, and how obedient we can be when the commands are clearly violating some kind of ethical code. Would we still go against that inherent voice in our heads telling us no because of a slim promise that to do this will make it easier in the end? We don't know what we might have done in these characters situations. It is a complicated scenario to pull off on screen without each of the characters losing credibility and it is easy to say you might have done something different but in that moment, when your back's against the wall and you have someone who, by the pillars of our society, we believe we can trust and in turn are going to do as they ask. We trust them that they are having us do what is best for everyone and to abuse that power is to cause an avalanche of things, worlds falling apart.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) is a manager at a fast food joint
that is placed in a difficult position.
Based on events that happened in 2004 at a Kentucky McDonalds Compliance follows the strange sequence of actions that occur within a single shift at the fictional fast food restaurant ChickWich. Manager Sandra (a sweet, extremely effective Ann Dowd) arrives for her work day only to have to deal with a freezer incident and has to get a last minute order to replace as much of the spoiled product as possible. Bad news is that she will be out of pickles and bacon and this is very bad news on a Friday when she knows it will be busy and customers will be irate over no pickles on their sandwich. First things first this is fast food, Sandra has employees who don't want to be their and have no incentive other than their paycheck and Becky (Dreama Walker), a teenager on the front counter could likely epitomize her standard employee. Besides worrying about their shortage and a possible "secret shopper" coming in, Sandra's night becomes even more stressful when she receives a call from a man who declares himself a police officer (Pat Healy). He is claiming that Becky has stolen money from a customer who he has with him (a fact Sandra quickly forgets) and that she has her regional manger on the other line (who Sandra never asks for him to conference in). It is clear from the beginning the guy is no cop, but we are functioning within the limits of a movie. For them, this wasn't a section in their lives that was leading to something more, they were not looking at their shift as a three act play. This was their life, their job, their security on the line and they weren't simply going to risk the outcome of a small incident to have an overall negative affect on the rest of their careers, relationships, or even existence. This is the point of disconnect between what is happening on screen and the audience. We cannot fully comprehend all of the thoughts that were possibly going through each of these people's minds and it will make those actions plenty more difficult to justify after the fact.

Becky (Dreama Walker) is accused of a crime she knows
she didn't commit in Compliance.
Writer and director Craig Zobel (working on only his second feature) develops Sandra as a middle-aged woman only trying to keep her responsibilities in line whether they be with the control of the store or doing what she feels is right in the issue of Becky. Things begin simple enough but quickly escalate to a strip search in the managers office. This is only the tip of the iceberg though and it is already getting extremely uncomfortable to watch. To Zobel's credit he never indulges in the opportunities presented him nor does he sink to making this some kind exploitative tale that does even more injustice to the young girl at the center of all these cynical games that are taking advantage of her and of her will to do whatever it takes to stay out of trouble with the law that society has trained us to fear no matter if we know we haven't done anything wrong. As Becky, Walker gives a humble yet frustrating performance. We see her scared and I know it is likely much harder to play scared and uncomfortable than it looks despite the set-up itself being enough motivation. The character of Becky is only frustrating in that she brings up the only point of doubt with the film. It is a major doubt though despite this having happened several times in real life. What this says about the self confidence of young women or how true the train of thought is that people will obey authority figures to a point it will conflict with their own personal conscience is up for debate. My problem is that if Becky or any girl like her knew defiantly that she did not do what she was accused of doing that she would have pushed with a little more resistance to expect a little more evidence from the man making the accusations rather than just his voice on the other end of the line. To say that though is to also counteract that the young lady might know the end result would favor her, something someone in her position could have never likely deemed possible when in the midst of being strip searched and several other unbelievable acts that feel all the more real the deeper we get into the con.

Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) is the voice on the phone
that won't stop pushing for more.
In its biggest complaints Compliance will likely inspire its best questions though. In that it is a thought-provoking film and something we cannot just easily dismiss because what we are witnessing makes us uncomfortable. Yes, people will ask why the other employees didn't intervene, why Sandra would really have her fiance come in to stand watch with Becky, (yes, that part actually happened in the real story and it is to actor Bill Camp's credit that he makes you feel the sickness and the vulnerability in his role) or why wouldn't someone for one second just stop and ask the officer on the phone what his credentials were or who his captain was or some kind of subtle question that might lead to a tip off that the guy isn't who he says he is. The movie will beg you to ask these questions as it will ask you what you would have done in these peoples position. You have to really stop and think about it first though, because as easy as it is to say you wouldn't have let such a thing happen to you or right under your nose you must too consider the surroundings and the dynamics that come along with what you are being accused of and the outlandish thought in the moment that someone would go to such an extent for a hoax. Credit again Zobel for intelligently placing shots of burnt fries, hands with no gloves sliding greasy chicken into cardboard boxes, dirty dishes, and those same boxes the next morning as trash in the parking lot. Mixing these in with the already despicable acts going on in the back only intensifies the grimy atmosphere as does the simplistic string-driven score. We feel we know these people, we want to yell at them and tell them to stop, that there is no need to go through with what this demented guy is asking them for, but the worst part is not being able to do anything at all. Watching, witnesses to a crime we can't fix. Much like Sandra and everyone that is pulled into it feels. Restricted by the thought process to follow orders and ask questions later.