Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Compliance” – Movie Review


This week in my movie class, we saw the drama “Compliance”, an independent film that played The Sundance Film Festival.


The manager of a fast food restaurant is contacted by a police officer to help investigate a possible crime committed by an employee – but when the suspect winds up being the victimized by the officer, who has really committed a crime?


As manager of a fast food restaurant in Ohio, Sandra has her hands full supervising a team of young people who are almost uniformly unreliable and irresponsible. One day at her office, she receives an unusual telephone call from Police Officer Daniels, who informs her that he’s investigating a reported crime perpetrated against one of Sandra’s customers by one of her employees. When Officer Daniels tells Sandra her restaurant’s Regional Manager has been made aware of the situation, she immediately grasps the severity of the problem and assists the officer in any way she possibly can.

Without the name of the suspected employee, Officer Daniels can only supply a vague description as related to him by the woman who filed the complaint, alleging that money was stolen from her purse while paying for food at the restaurant. Based on the description, Sandra determines that the officer must be referring to Becky, who frequently works one of the cash registers at the restaurant. Sandra is instructed to confine Becky to her office and perform a strip search on her to see if the young woman has stashed the stolen money in any of her clothes or underwear. Daniels has Sandra call on Becky’s friend Kevin, a fellow employee, to stand guard; when Officer Daniels proceeds to instruct him to do some rather odd things with Becky, he refuses and storms out of the office.

Shorthanded in a busy restaurant, Sandra is forced to call her boyfriend Van to give her a hand by taking over the guarding duties. Sandra, who has been ordered to hide Becky’s clothes, leaves Van alone with Becky while he remains on the telephone with Officer Daniels, who quickly has Van conducting some highly unprofessional and inappropriate inspections and punishments on the still-naked young woman. Afterwards, an ashamed Van departs, leaving Becky alone. Once a local handyman who has recently been working at the restaurant happens to stop by at that moment, Sandra enlists him as the next watchman – but when he suspects something is up, he tells Sandra she’s been had. Realizing the mistake, can Sandra aid the real police in apprehending the perpetrator of this prank?

At the outset of the movie, the filmmakers inform the audience the story is inspired by true events; afterwards, we are further told this was not an isolated incident – this same prank occurred 70 times across 30 states. Despite this, it is incredibly difficult to believe that so many people would be dimwitted enough to fall for this scam – unless, of course, you subscribe to the belief that most people are profoundly stupid, in which case “Compliance” succeeds in proving the theory in excruciating detail. That said, the film is difficult to watch – not only because it rates highly on the creep meter, but also because it requires such a suspension of disbelief that you might as well expect Spider-Man to swoop in and save the day.

Another problem with this motion picture is the challenge finding a protagonist for whom to root. Certainly, the character of Becky is sympathetic because she’s the victim – nevertheless, it’s not really her story, it’s Sandra’s. While we’re rooting against the guy who’s fobbing himself off as Officer Daniels, we can’t root for the cops to catch him either, because it’s not a story about one of the real police officers (they don’t arrive in the movie until the third act). So ultimately, Sandra is the protagonist, but she’s so flawed and possesses so few redeeming qualities that she can in no way be considered heroic. Lastly, this feels like a stage play rather than a movie. With the vast majority of the tale taking place in a back office with one of the major characters remaining unseen because his presence is on a telephone, it’s way too static to be filmic.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed “Compliance”’s writer/director Craig Zobel and Ann Dowd, who played Sandra. Dowd said she came to the film right after wrapping up work on a play and wound up on the shoot for 14 days. A big fan of the script, she said Zobel gave the cast the latitude to improvise, but she felt that the screenplay was so well-crafted she had no desire to do so. Zobel said he discovered the series of crimes when researching The Milgram Experiment. In real life, he said the person who was accused of the crime was found not guilty because the evidence was purely circumstantial – the prosecutors lacked anything like audio recordings of his voice. The actual suspect worked as a prison guard and was studying to become a police officer; curiously, after the court case, these phony phone calls completely stopped.

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