PLOT: During the night shift at a fast food restaurant, a man calls in pretending to be a cop. He tells the manager (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) is a thief, and instructs her to lock her in the employee break room. From there, he begins to instruct the manager and her boyfriend to interrogate her in an escalating series of demands- all the while no one questions that he is who he says he is.
REVIEW: Craig Zobel’s COMPLIANCE was the talk of the town at Sundance back in January. Supposedly based on a true story, where the night shift crew at a McDonald’s were convinced by a prank caller to lock up, interrogate, and eventually rape a young woman who worked there- Zobel’s film explores, in disturbing detail, how anxious most of us are to comply. No one in the cast of characters is spared.
The focus of COMPLIANCE is on the middle aged manager, played by Ann Dowd (who’s award worthy). Well into her forties, her character- Sandra, tries to be a good manager, and having probably lived a life where she was pushed around by most people, she relishes her role as supervisor. She tries to maintain a friendly relationship with her employees, but is unable to relate to them in anyway- and it’s established early on that she resents Becky (Dreama Walker) the pretty young cashier all the guys drool over.
So- when the caller, identifying himself as Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) calls in, and tells Sandra Becky’s a thief, she’s all too anxious to believe him. While maintaining her own innocence, Daniels does a number on Becky- by using some vague questioning to discover her brother’s been tangled up with the cops before, giving him some collateral to threaten her with. Thus- she becomes docile and pliable. The demands start off small-scale, with him telling Sandra to keep Becky in the break room until some non-existent police show up. He tells Sandra exactly what she wants to hear- that she needs to keep control, that she’s the only one who can handle the situation, etc. He gives her a sense of power that she’s all too willing to explore.
COMPLIANCE is a controversial film- with some viewers at Sundance taking issue with the way Zobel’s film assumes the very worst about human nature. That’s not necessarily accurate, as there are characters, including one of Becky’s co-workers, and a younger manager, who are mostly kept out of the loop, that try to help Becky. Truly- Sandra, who’s probably not a bad person per se, emerges as a thoroughly despicable character, in that she should have known better. I found myself wanting to strangle Sandra at times, and her placid complicity- mixed in with some long-simmering resentment, as played by the amazing Dowd makes her totally believable, and incredibly disturbing.
However, it’s Dreama Walker who’s got the hardest part, as she’s totally destroyed emotionally by her interactions with “Officer Daniels”, and is willing to do whatever she’s told. You’ll be itching for her to stand up for herself, but she never does- and as such, is just as complicit as Sandra, even if she is the victim in this twisted game. Walker’s great, but her timidity turned audiences off a bit (apparently the Q&A after the premiere got nasty), although to me it seemed perfectly realistic- even if this is how most of us “assume” or rather, hope, we’d never act.
COMPLIANCE is only Craig Zobel’s second film, but it’s an assured piece of work. He shoots the story in a very matter of fact, docudrama style that suits the material. David Gordon Green is listed as executive producer, and Zobel’s worked on several of his movies, including GEORGE WASHINGTON, and UNDERTOW as a producer/production manager. COMPLIANCE is certainly something that’s going to divide audiences, and get an extreme reaction out of most- but it’s also a film you won’t be able to stop thinking about for a while afterwards. If you see it with friends, expect to be debating it for hours afterwards.