A film review by Craig J. Koban September 24, 2012
2012, R, 90 mins.
2012, R, 90 mins.
Sandra: Ann Dowd / Becky: Dreama Walker / Officer Daniels: Pat Healy / Kevin: Philip Ettinger
I never want to see COMPLIANCE again.
because it’s an awful film, but rather because it’s an endlessly
disturbing and depressing one that unnerved and chilled me to the bone.
That's a testament, I guess, to its level of technical craft.
When I left the screening of COMPLIANCE I breathed a sigh of
relief, mostly because of the way it challenged me and made me ponder its
almost unanswerable ethical conundrums. Even days after seeing it I can’t decide if it’s a
damning condemnation of the worst aspects of human stupidity or a shameful
indictment of how grossly naďve people are so easily duped when they
believe that they are speaking to people of higher authority.
Either way, COMPLIANCE is unspeakably hard to sit through, but I
will most certainly never forget it.
I had to take a side, then I would probably lean more towards COMPLIANCE
being an expose on the basic human propensity – when under great
emotional duress – to fold like a deck of cards and comply with orders
from people above us. It
further shows how a revoltingly misplaced faith in authority and law
enforcement figures can unintentionally lead to horrific abuses of people.
Yet, there is no denying that characters in COMPLIANCE behave with
unpardonable and profound foolishness, so much so that I literally want to
throw things at the screen while watching it.
The fact that the film’s story is based on fact is very
noteworthy; without that insight I would have never believed a majority of
what transpires here, but the events portrayed actually did happen,
which makes the film all the more sad.
factual events in question occurred in 2004 in a Kentucky McDonald’s
restaurant; the establishment in the film is the fictitiously named "Chickenwich", which was obviously a legal decision on the film’s
producers. The restaurant’s
head manager, Sandra (Ann Dowd) has begun her day very badly: Firstly, a lazy employee left the freezer open and caused the spoiling of
$15,000 worth of meat and then somebody forget to order extra pickles and bacon
for the mad rush of customers that are set to come it during the business
day. Worse yet is that Sandra
is overly anxious regarding a visit from her district manager on an
impromptu inspection. Her day has barely begun as she’s already a tightly wound cauldron of
get worse. Sandra takes a
call from a man that identifies himself as Officer Daniels (Pat Healy),
who tells her that one of her young and attractive staff members,
Becky (Dreama Walker) has been caught red handed stealing money from a
customer. He also informs the
befuddled Sandra that they have video proof of the theft, enough to book
Becky and send her to jail. However, the officer and the rest of his colleagues are
tied up on another pressing criminal matter that may have links to
Becky’s theft. He politely
asks Sandra to quietly get Becky, take her into a secluded back office
area away from other customers and staff, and keep her there until he can
arrive. Sandra, already a
woman under great pressure, dutifully complies.
wouldn’t she? The
officer on the phone describes Becky in detail and knows her full name
and, yes, he identifies himself as a cop and speaks with the usual cop
lingo. It initially seems to
Sandra like a modest request to detain Becky in her office, but then the
Officer Daniels informs her that he still can’t quite make it to Chickenwich
yet. He then asks
Sandra to help his investigation by ordering Becky to empty her pockets to
see if she has the money, to which she complies.
Sandra finds no money. The
officer then asks Sandra to check Becky's other personal belongings, which
greatly upsets Becky even more (she steadfastly pleads her innocence).
Again, Sandra finds no money.
The officer further emphasizes the need to locate the money as part
of a larger crime that Becky may have had a hand in, during which he
informs Sandra that “still
can’t come yet,” so he tells her that he has the company’s head
honcho on the other line and that she has been instructed to…strip
search Becky, which horrifies her to no end.
Shockingly, this is only the beginning of a series of horrendous indecencies that Becky is forced to endure while waiting for the officer
to arrive on scene.
was infamous on festival circuits for its many walkouts. Some angered
viewers accused the film’s director, Craig Zobel, of engaging in cheap
psychological torture porn and debasing Ann Dowd into portraying Becky’s
enduring all sorts of sexual abuse for the sake of sensationalistic
accusations levied against the film were that it easily showed lower and
middle class working people as easily duped morons.
Although I can understand the latter sentiment from distressed
viewers, the former regarding using sexual violence for the sake of crude
entertainment is inaccurate. Becky’s
horrific humiliation and mental hell that she endures is anything but eroticized;
it’s squirm inducingly terrifying.
Zobel also never objectifies Becky's nude façade; there is very
little actual nudity in the film (which is kept to fleeting
above-the-waist shots of Walker) and the director instead concentrates on the bewildered reactions on
the faces of all involved. Then
tension in particular moments makes the film borderline unendurable at
contains some of 2012’s most thanklessly credible and gutsy
performances. Ann Dowd -
Oscar-worthy for sure - has to walk the delicate line of playing a seemingly noble minded and
decent woman that also shows her inherent weakness with making some
categorical blunders that a person with limited common sense would not
make. Dreama Walker, on the other
had, is the bravest of the performers, who has to play a determined young woman
certain of her innocence, yet a weak one that’s so easily deceived into
doing everything – no matter how abhorrent – that the
officer on the phone instructs her to do.
Walker's work is a revelation here, complimenting the film’s
powerful sense of horrifying sadness and gut-wrenching intensity.
course, the officer is revealed to be a phony (Zobel perhaps telegraphs
the real identity of this classless prankster a bit too early in the film
to be effective) and his actions were duplicated over 70 times throughout
the United States. Yup...70 times.
COMPLIANCE contains a hastily cobbled together epilogue that
frustratingly leaves viewers angrier and asking more futile questions
about what transgressed for poor Becky.
Wisely, the film never goes out of its way to tell us what to
think, trusting viewers to process what they have experienced and, in
turn, allowing them to form their own judgments.
If anything, the film will provocatively spur heated discussions
about the workplace, sexual harassment, sexual deviants and predators, and
the weakest facets of human nature that indirectly allows evil to
transpire without questioning it.
It’s easy to label Sandra’s actions and handling of the nightmarish situation as nonsensically dimwitted, but Becky as the victim as well also allows herself to participate through ordeals that no woman would ever want to experience…all because they both believed they would be in trouble with the law if they didn’t comply. In the end, I don’t think that Sandra and Becky are morons, but they behaved moronically, mostly because they were just severely scared and troubled individuals that deeply feared the police and the consequences of defying them. COMPLIANCE, as a result, is not a tawdry or shameful exploitation picture. Films like it that haunt your memories and force you to think about its themes rise well above those petty descriptors.