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…”
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.