Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Compliance


Compliance is the kind of movie that raises questions. I’ll speak only for myself, but while watching it, you’ll question and scoff ceaselessly. I cannot tell you how many times during my screening notions of: “Oh, come on...” “Really…?” “This is too much,” and so on filtered through my head. The kicker is that, at some point, hopefully, you acknowledge the fact that what you’re seeing may not necessarily stray too far from reality. And, again, hopefully, by the film’s end, you’ll sit and reflect, and maybe let out a stupefied, marveled, “Fuck…”

Compliance is a tiny indie thriller in which a man claiming to be a police officer calls a fast food restaurant and, eventually, forces the people in charge to exploit an innocent female worker. It’s midway through a busy Friday shift at Chickwich (a purposefully fictional fast food joint purposefully located in Anytown, USA) when shift manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a call from Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) saying he has a woman at the station claiming that 19-year-old Chickwich counter girl Becky (Dreama Walker) has stolen money from her purse.

From the onset, Sandra does what (I think) most people in her situation would do, which is follow the officer’s instructions explicitly. Per Daniels’ orders (he’s on the phone with Sandra the whole time), Sandra brings Becky to a back stock room, checks her purse, her pockets, etc. And then everything shifts. The moment Daniels tells Sandra she has to cavity search Becky, the film will either lose or grab you. Or, hell, maybe both, continually.
Ann Dowd as Sandra
Becky complies, timidly getting naked while Sandra affably abides the officer’s orders. And from there, it just gets worse. Because Chickwich is particularly busy this Friday afternoon, Sandra must resume work. Fine, Daniels says, as long as she gets a male to guard Becky. Various male co-workers come in and out of the back room, some comply with Daniels’ demands, others balk instantly.  

Now, there are really two different things to discuss here: the quality of the film, and the believability of the events it portrays.

Compliance is a very well made movie. It takes place almost entirely in one restaurant (and really just in one small room), and never lets us know more than we need to. Every single actor involved in the film is extraordinary. Dowd, a noted character actor who I recognized chiefly as Natalie Portman’s mom in Garden State, is sensational as the conflicted Sandra. Her continual character shifts from a kind mother figure to an entitled, authoritative bitch are simply a marvel to watch unfold. Her final scene in this film is some of the finest acting I can recall in recent memory. An Indie Spirit Award nomination seems like a given, but Oscar attention would not be unjust.

Likewise Dreama Walker, an actress who, despite her many screen credits, I had not remembered seeing before. That’ll change now, as her fearless portrayal of Becky deserves to keep her on the map for decades to come. In many ways, the film rests on her shoulders. To say she carries it is a grand understatement.
Dreama Walker as Becky
Writer/director Craig Zobel knows how to tell a story. The film’s sparse use of music is wholly effective, and helps accentuate the restrained, gorgeous photography. I’ve never seen a film by Zobel before, but I certainly hope they’ll be many more to come.

But now for the much larger issue: just how much would a person comply with an unseen police officer? As a journalist (which is my current profession), you have to know your rights. You have to know where you’re allowed to go, what you’re allowed to ask, and what you’re allowed to tell. That’s why you take law courses in journalism school. So, essentially, I know enough about the law to know that what Daniels asks is in no way a part of it. But do other people? Are there people naïve (or scared) enough to believe whatever an officer of a law (or someone claiming to be an officer of the law) tells them? Of course there are. I once dated a girl who had a paralytic fear of authority. She had never been in trouble (serious or otherwise) in her life. Yet everytime she walked through a security checkpoint at an airport, she would have a mild-to-grave panic attack. She was so afraid of getting into trouble that she would’ve done anything the TSA agents asked of her.
Pat Healy as Officer Daniels
I thought a lot about that level of paranoia when watching this movie. History tells us that the majority of people will do what an authority figure tells them to do. Sometimes within reason, sometimes not (see cases like Nazi Germany or Abu Gharib, for example). Sure, Jewish captives listened to what Nazi’s told them because they didn’t want to die, and prisoners of Abu Ghraib complied with guards as to avoid being electrocuted, sodomized or God knows what else. But is the morality of that fear cheapened by the mere threat of jail time? A cop says you stole money. Take off your clothes, or he’ll take you to jail. I’d tell the cop to go fuck himself, but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t.

I’m getting into such a level of detail here because Compliance is a very very good film, the best of the year so far, in fact. And in it, poor Becky is forced to do things that had the audience laughing out of speculation, before silently raising their eyebrows out of horror. You can chose to believe it, or you can laugh it off and go on with your day. If you’re one of the naysayers, I’d advise you to conduct a quick Google search about the true story this film is based on. Everything depicted in Compliance happened at a McDonalds a few years ago in Kentucky.

Everything. Think about that. A


You can find U.S. theaters playing the film by clicking here.

35 comments:

  1. Intriguing review and I'm so glad this movie is good! I've been pumped for it ever since I saw the first trailer. Sucks it's not at any theaters around me though...

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    1. Thanks! Yeah it really deserves a wider audience. I hope positive word of mouth allows it to grow. It will definitely polarize the majority of the "non indie" crowd, though.

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    2. Which is unfortunate. People could really enjoy certain movies if they just had a more open mind.

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    3. Yeah I agree with that to a point. But I suppose, at the end of the day, some people don't want to pay $11 to witness the awful shit that happens to poor Becky in this movie. And if they do, then they aren't very happy about it. You know?

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    4. People are so hard to please, haha.

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  2. Heard about this one, looks intriguing. I think doing movies about exploitation of women can be tricky, manly because if you're not careful it can seem...well exploitative. But from your review i think this one avoids that

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    1. Yeah, I agree with you wholeheartedly, that is something that can be tricky indeed. And believe me, for Compliance to tell its story effectively, everything it shows is absolutely necessary, and it handles it very well.

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  3. I have to say...I am intrigued. I just skimmed through the review because I want to stay blind, but this has a big score on Rotten Tomatoes. To get an A from you must mean that all these positive responses have weight. Not sure when it hits our screens but when it does, I will see it.

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    1. Yeah man, I really think you'll dig it. I hope it comes your way soon... can't wait to hear what you think.

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  4. Great review man. I already wanted to see this, but your review piques my interest. It's times like these when I'm ashamed of being from Kentucky.

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    1. It could be worse, Josh. I have deep family roots in Mississippi. :-P

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    2. Nice, glad you're gonna check this one out, Josh. Also, (and this is for both of you) the real caller made about 70 of these calls to various states, so no shame to your respective homesteads!

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    3. @Stephanie: Haha. :)

      @Alex: Wow. If that wasn't mentioned at the end of the film, it should've been.

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    4. Glad to hear, because that's gotta increase the dramatic impact of this event even more.

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  5. Quite excited to see this. Very curious since it's based on fact. Hopefully I can check it out soon. Great review!

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    1. Thanks man! The movie starts by saying it's based on a true story, but most movies that say that really aren't. But after some research... I mean, wow.

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  6. "I'd tell the cop to go fuck himself -- but a lot of people wouldn't." I hear what you're saying. I would never take a police officer's orders via phone -- I'd insist that he/she come in and present a badge. But I'm a cop's wife, so maybe I'm not "normal." And if an officer asked me to do anything out of line, I'd sure as hell walk away and report it in a New York minute. And I'm not a particularly assertive person.

    But as you said, history has shown that people will go to astonishing lengths to comply with authority figures, and you gave wonderful and chilling examples. A famous study years ago had subjects come into the experimenter's lab. (I'm having Middle Aged Memory Syndrome and can't remember who or where.) They were placed in front of a set of buttons, and they were told when they pushed a certain button, an electric shock was being administered to a test subject, causing considerable pain. You'd think any sane person would turn around and walk out, then proceed to decide to whom this should be reported. But again and again, people did as they were told, even though the believed the electric shocks were real.

    Honestly, this kind of thing is what scares me most about this country -- I won't get on that soap box right now.

    This sounds like an interesting and thought-provoking movie, especially since it's based on a real case. Darn ... it isn't available on Netflix yet. Excellent review, Alex!

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    1. You always leave the best, most insightful comments Stephanie, thanks for this one!

      I originally wrote that shock experiment into this review, but replaced it with two broader examples instead, but yeah, that is a perfect example for what I was trying to explain.

      I haven't been able to get this notion of overtly complying to authority out of my head since I watched the movie. Two film examples come up that get mentioned a lot: Jeremy Davies sitting on the stairs as Adam Goldberg gets stabbed to death in Saving Private Ryan, and the one older guy on the plane in United 93 who begs all of the other passengers to sit and do nothing. Those characters often get called "bitches" or "pussies" by audiences, but that's unfair. I've never been on a plane that was being hijacked, and I've never fought in a war, so I have no idea how I would react to both of those situations, and I don't think most people do either. We like to think we know how we'd react, but until you're in it, you just don't know.

      Sorry, that was long. This movie just got so much right.

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    2. Interesting that we both thought of that shock experiment. I think the examples you gave pretty much said it all, though. After living through Bush II's reign & reading about Abu Gharib, almost nothing surprises me anymore. *Sigh* Sorry ... this isn't the place to get all political. ;-)

      I agree -- it's completely unfair to call someone a "pussy" for not standing up in a situation like that -- as you said, none of us knows how we'd react in a similar situation. I've often asked myself whether I'd have extraordinary courage in extreme circumstances. Honestly, I seriously doubt it -- I'm pretty much a wimp -- but who knows? :-)

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    3. It's all just so interesting and confounding to me. So much going on there. And, to be honest, for a tiny indie thriller to provoke this much curiosity within me... well, that's really saying something.

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  7. Great review! Haven't seen the movie yet but I did read a lot about that story because I really couldn't believe people can be so stupid. Now, you call them naive which is subtle, but honestly if someone claiming to be a cop tells you to cavity search someone or do other things he ask those people to do, who would do that? Either a pervert or a total idiot, which sadly, I think was the case here.

    Some people blame the girl because she submitted, but hell, she was scared and those who were supposed to be watching should be the ones who know better. The most atrocious thing in that whole story was that the manager instead of going to jail actually got money from McDonald's. Yes, let's compansate people for being idiots.

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    1. Thanks!

      You've latched onto a whole new aspect of the argument: what does this act say of the person who facilitated it? I focused mostly on the poor girl's struggle, but her boss is, in many ways, the real criminal here.

      The movie does a really good job of not showing the boss as a complete moron, but not as someone who is terribly intelligent either. She's just your average Americana woman - raised to do what she's told. But, yeah, the fact that McDonald's paid the real woman off is fucking atrocious.

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    2. That manager got compensated?!? What was that fucking judge smoking? That is stupidity on a colossal scale. :-(

      I'm trying to be as fair toward the manager as it seems Alex is trying to be -- but seriously ... who would believe that a police officer would handle a matter like this OVER THE PHONE and have a civilian carry out the investigation for them, up to and including a cavity search?!? I can't fathom it.

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    3. Yeah isn't that just crazy? And keep in mind, it's suspected that this same guy did this to roughly 70 different people. Nuts.

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    4. Albert Einstein is supposed to have said (paraphrasing) -- "Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the universe."

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  8. Nice write-up.

    Looks like a very interesting movie. Saw an interview with Pat Healy On Red Eye about it. Hopefully it comes to CT like Killer Joe.

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    1. Thanks! Ohh I wanna see that interview. That had to have been a tough role for him to play. I hope it comes your way too!

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  9. Nice review. I was interested in reading it since you gave it since a high grade. I didn't think the movie was particular good quality film (I found it had terrible pacing problems) but it was intriguing mostly because of the subject matter and psychology behind it. That alone made it something I think that is more unique than alot of movies out there. I agree that Ann Dowd is probably the standout of this. I hope she gets recognized.

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    1. Ahh me too, Dowd as so damn good in this. I understand your problems with the pacing, but I thought it was deliberate and off-kilter, and I kind of dug it. Everything in the room moved at a completely different pace (either fast or slower) then everything outside. I definitely liked what they did there, but I can see why you did not. Either way, thanks so much for commenting!

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  10. It's intriguing the fact that it's based/inspired by a true story. Sounds like it could be really tough to watch at times though.

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    1. Hmm, how do I say this... the movie definitely documents a handful of disgusting acts, but the film itself handles them as tastefully as a film could. It isn't shocking for the sake of being shocking, you know?

      It's real.

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  11. So, I agree that this movie is extremely well made. I love how you can practically feel the greasiness of the place. I also like how the director showed how close these shenanigans were to both the police station(that great long take) and also to the tons of people right there in the restaurant. Scary! Yes, the acting was great too.

    However, I was in complete agony throughout. I kept checking the time for it to end. The horror of this real-life story prevented me from enjoying it.

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    1. I think that's a fair statement. A lot of people don't want to see a movie like this as a form of "entertainment." It is real and parts of it are incredibly agonizing. I love movies that examine the darkest sides of human nature, but I can appreciate how it ain't for everyone.

      Either way, glad you liked some of it. That long take was fucking brilliant. The cops were right there.

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