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Compliance (2012)

March 11, 2013

compliance-posterIt’s an interesting paradigm when a film is technically great, but hard to enjoy because of its subject matter. That’s how I feel about Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, a thrilling film that’s technically incredible in its cinematic execution, but so shocking and gruesome that I haven’t been able to watch it more than once despite owning. The Italian anti-Fascist film Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom has the same effect, and now Craig Zobel’s Compliance is a part to that list. It’s a “great” film, but the subject matter and character’s are so infuriating that it becomes hard to watch. Also that fact that Compliance is based on a true story just makes my skin crawl and blood boil even more.

The story that unfolds isn’t a new one. I vaguely remember when the news broke a few years ago that a prank caller had convinced a McDonald’s manager to strip search an employee. The caller succeeded in manipulating dozens of managers, as a whopping 70 reports were recorded. Compliance tells the McDonald’s story mixing in elements of other cases in all its embarrassing, ridiculous details. Becky (Dreama Walker) is a 19-year-old employee at ChickWorld whose boss, Sandra (Ann Dowd), receives a call from an Officer Daniels (Pat Healey) informing her that Becky has been reported of stealing money from a customer’s purse. Assured that her regional manager is aware of the situation and that she can help Becky avoid jail time, Sandra is convinced by the caller to remove Becky from her post and keep her in the back office until cops arrive. Thinking her actions are helping both Officer Daniels and Becky, Sandra then strip searches Becky while giving Officer Daniels every detail he asks about her body. Thus, leading to an entire day of humiliation on Becky’s part that ultimately leads to a sexual assault.

The story Compliance tells is supremely disturbing and what’s even more unsettling is that the situation really happened numerous times all over America. The whole situation lends itself to the psychological study of how humans tend to bow to authority despite acting against their own moral standards as Stanley Milgram showed in his experiments in which subjects knowingly inflicted pain on others simply because a man in a lab coat told them. Furthermore, the Stanford Prison experiment displayed how sadistic and malicious human beings can become simply because they are in a position of power. These studies along with the fast food prank calls is a reminder that human beings can be dumb evil shits. Dowd shows this as well, doing phenomenal work as Sandra. Audiences start the film sympathetic to Sandra, a middle-aged, soon be married store manager whose trying to prove herself worthy of leadership in spite of a $1500 mistake on her hands.

compliance-movie1However, as the film continues and the perpetrator continually praises Sandra for her courageous way of dealing with such an embarrassing job, her authoritative personality begins to shine. She quickly shifts from the humiliated, empathetic manager trying help Becky to a callous, cold dictator not afraid to bark orders at Becky, because in the end she’s only doing her job. The creepy undertone of the film is captured by Adam Stone’s murky, dark cinematography that gives a dreary tint to the film, an aesthetic reflecting the small rural town in which the incident takes place. Jane Rizzo’s fast paced edits captures the hustle of fast food restaurants as well as the wit of Officer Daniels.

The problem with Compliance, besides Dreama Walker’s subpar acting, is that’s it’s just a hard film to get through. The situation the characters find themselves in is uncomfortably unsettling and their reactions to it is frustrating. I deeply sighed in annoyance numerous times wishing I could slap everyone for their ignorant stupidity. Compliance is so ridiculous that it just feels fake, but that’s not the fault of writer and director Craig Zobel; it’s the folly of mankind. Compliance is an impressive, dramatic thriller that unfolds a chilling story sure to linger with you days after viewing. It’s hard to resist the urge of calling the real life managers and employees in this situation stupid smucks, it’s very hard not to actually. However, as Compliance shows, its easy to judge when you’re not the one on the phone or being threatened with jail time on top of being fired. In a striking, poignant ending, we see that perhaps it’s a much more difficult situation to say no to when simply trying to keep your job and appease authority.

SEE IT. And evaluate yourself to make sure you’re not a brainless sheep willing to bend for any one with a smooth, convincing voice.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. K-chan permalink
    March 13, 2013 1:52 AM

    This movie pissed me the fuck off.

    • March 13, 2013 9:01 AM

      I know right?! Me too, the whole time I was angry while watching it and wanted to slap everyone involved.

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