This is a film that I’ve been sitting on for quite awhile to review. Most might assume it’s because I didn’t like the film and wouldn’t want to put out a negative review. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a film that barely missed my top 10 for 2012, mainly because having only seen it one time at a press screening (where gasps and a bit of yelling at the screen occurred) and felt ill afterward from what was on the screen before me. So it’s a film that I actually loved when I saw it, but how could you truly love a film with such despicable acts throughout, based on a true story that makes it that much more stomach churning?
Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of a ChickWich fast food restaurant (a stand in for a McDonald’s where this and several other cases this film is based on), gets a phone call while she’s working telling her that one of her workers, Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer’s purse. Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) says he’s too busy to come down there due to being at Becky’s house doing a thorough search, so he asks Sandra if she could detain Becky and question her for him before he gets there. Becky denies stealing anything, but complies with the authoritative Daniels on the phone and agrees to go to the back office to be questioned about the situation. What starts off as a few simple questions and a light search on Becky’s person through her pockets and purse, continues into a full strip search to make sure she’s not hiding the money anywhere she could make it disappear. The clothes are put into a bag and the humiliated Becky is given just an apron to cover herself up.
It’s a busy day at the restaurant, so while Sandra has to go back and forth between managing her employees and furthering this investigation, she has to leave multiple people throughout the day to watch over Becky, such as her friend and co-worker Kevin (Philip Ettinger). Kevin finds it suspicious that this officer is asking him to search Becky in a more intimate way, so he protests and officer Daniels asks Sandra to get someone else she can trust to be his go to person. She enlists her fiance Van (Bill Camp), who at first is a bit perplexed as to why this is happening, but once he gets on the phone, Daniels has him also under his control. What occurs next is something that I don’t want to get fully into if people haven’t seen it yet, but this is where my stomach twisted and turned and my head started pounding because I felt very uncomfortable at what I was seeing on the screen. And that’s a good thing.
What Zobel has done with his film is taken a series of cases of prank callers making false accusations and seeing how far they could take the person on the other end. Thinking about it from my point of view, I could never imagine listening and complying to someone who says they’re a cop on the other end without blinking an eye. Many friends and family who I’ve either convinced to watch this film or know about the cases have said the same thing, but how can we know for sure what would happen behind closed doors if one feels obligated to do so. Fear of losing a job or being arrested themselves can make people do a lot of crazy things, and Compliance shows how people can be truly manipulated. Many people have complained that it’s filmed in a leering fashion, as if it was just an exploitation film. I for one wish that wasn’t looked down upon as just an insult, considering many great films are exploitative.
Everyone is in top form in the film, especially Ann Dowd who has to battle her own emotions as a boss, as a woman and as a human being, ultimately giving into an authority figure she trusts from the second she speaks to him on the phone. Pat Healy is once again a stand out as the creepy officer Daniels, primarily it’s just his voice for the most part, but we see his day to day life while he’s going through the motions on the phone, which seems like a ritual to him. He’s making a sandwich and eating it, all while being a puppeteer to people miles away from where he lives. And Dreama Walker is also exceptional, the innocent worker who picked the wrong day to come to work and being put through the humiliating works. The DVD from Magnolia has a few extras, such as an interview with the director Craig Zobel, a super short (about 2 minutes) behind the scenes of the film, a AXT promo for the film and the theatrical trailer. I kind of wish there was a documentary about the real life cases, which there are dozens of that went on through roughly 30 or so states here, which is horrifying when you stop to think about that.
Compliance is a film that has sparked controversy through its controversy and controversy through its conversations. An important film, be it based on a true story or not, one must look within themselves and ask them the question, “Would I be so compliant if someone who says they are a person of authority told me to subjugate someone?” And I ask you that question. Would you let someone tell you to take someone and put them through a series of trials, all because of an accusation? The best question to ask is ‘Why?’ Why would anyone let this happen and to the extent that it did? Why wouldn’t you just ask your boss if it was true? Why wouldn’t you ask for the officer to come in to see their credentials? These are all questions I keep asking the film and I never get an answer.