DVD Review: Compliance

When a film says “Based on a true story,” or “Inspired by true events,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re about to see actually happened. Jaws was based on true events, however, what happened in Jaws isn’t what happened – it was simply based around great white shark attacks that had happened previously. When a film is based on a true story it simply means that something like this happened, and royalties were likely made with the original story in order to make it more entertaining for the viewer. That’s not the case with Compliance, which I found more than shocking when I read up on the film after watching it, as everything that happens in this film happened verbatim in real life.

Right at the start of the film is says “Inspired by True Events”; however, what it should have said was, “Everything you see in this film actually happened to someone,” and at that point it may be taken a bit more seriously. Of course, minor adjustments could have been made which caused them not to be able to say that, but after reading what actually happened to a young lady working at McDonald’s (the story this film is based around), it sounds pretty spot on.

The film starts off as a regular day at an Ohio fast food restaurant, where the manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) gives her team a pep talk, telling them to prepare for the busy night that’s ahead of them. We’re quickly introduced to Becky (Dreama Walker), a young cashier who juggles multiple relationships and brags about them to her co-worker, Marti (Ashlie Atkinson), who seems to live vicariously through Becky’s stories. Then there’s Becky’s friend, Kevin (Philip Ettinger), Sandra’s fiancé, Van (Bill Camp), and a handyman named Harold (Stephen Payne).

After introductions are made, Sandra receives a phone call from an Officer Daniels (Pat Healy), who informs her that he has a customer with him that is reporting that Becky stole from her at the restaurant, and that Sandra needs to go get her. She obeys, and quickly the theme of how far one will go to obey authority is underway. Becky comes in the back and they pass the phone back and forth as Officer Daniels keeps pushing that Becky stole the money, and that they’ve got to find it or else.

He has Sandra search Becky’s pockets, and purse, but nothing is found. Things quickly jump to the next level as Officer Daniels says that they can’t spare anyone to come get her, and under these special circumstances he can authorize someone to do a search for him. So he tells Sandra that she has to strip-search Becky in order to find the money. Sandra isn’t comfortable with this, and asks what the boss of the company (who Officer Daniels said was on the other line with him) had to say about this. Officer Daniels stumbles for a moment, but quickly recovers and says that her boss said to go ahead with it. Still uncomfortable, Sandra calls in Marti as a witness and they have Becky strip.

Now, this is where viewers will either be engrossed and wonder what may happen next, or how horrible this all is, or they’ll just be sitting there wondering how these people could be so foolish. The latter category will likely add more to it in the moments that follow, where Officer Daniels asks Sandra what kind of panties Becky is wearing, and explains why Becky has to remove her bra and panties as well.

Now, even if it got this far in reality, you’d think that after that – finding nothing – the manager may ask for someone to come down. That wasn’t the case in the actual event this happened in, and that’s not the case in the movie. No, in both instances, the caller told the manager to put the clothes in a bag and place them in their car outside so that police could search them when they arrived. Can you start to see why I said they should have told viewers that this all actually happened?

By this point, I was just blown away by how nobody was questioning anything. Of course there’s the Milgram experiment, where it’s been proven that people will obey authority to crazy lengths without question; however, that still doesn’t make this movie any easier to swallow as it just seems so outlandish – and yet, it actually happened. It’s just unbelievable.

What’s even crazier is that this is only the beginning of the torment by Officer Daniels, and things are about to get a lot worse for Becky. Writer/Director Craig Zobel really does a great job pacing the film, as it runs at 90 minutes in length, which pretty much fly by. It’s intriguing on one level, yet it’s more the constant wonder of just how far everyone will let this go before someone says, “Wait a minute, it’s been hours we’ve been talking to this guy…something’s up.”

This isn’t an easy film to act in, as it’s pretty raw in its portrayal, and Ann Dowd does a great job as Sandra – especially at the start. Nearing the final act of the film, her actions are a bit harsh, but when she’s initially being pushed into everything, Dowd comes off as visibly upset, which really helps sell the moment. Walker doesn’t have it easy either, but some bad lines don’t really help her cause, as she says, “…and I’m naked,” multiple times when she’s asked to do something while wearing nothing but an apron, and she does so a way that comes off like she’s in a bad porno.

Camp actually does a really strong job as Sandra’s fiancé who is asked to come in and watch Becky for a while at one point (I told you things got a lot worse). He has some exchanges with Officer Daniels that really make him come off like he knows something is wrong, but doesn’t know what to do about it. Healy does well as Officer Daniels as well, playing up the authority card quite often, and really keeping the flow moving.

Still, as strong as the acting is overall, it’s just hard to get engaged in a movie that you’re constantly being pulled out of because you need to get ice after slapping your forehead so many times. Again, maybe I’d have been more shocked by it all had I known that everything – right down to the stuff that nobody in their right mind would think possible – actually happened.

After reading this, odds are you’re at least a little intrigued about the film, and I can’t say I blame you. It’s an intriguing topic, and the knowledge that it all happened makes it that much more intriguing after the fact; however, it’s still not a movie I would heavily recommend, as it’s more a guilty pleasure or pure need to see just how crazy things get over an actual engrossing, intense film.

For the most part, things don’t get gratuitous, yet there’s a vital scene nearing the end of the second act that is set up off screen, which makes it completely inconceivable as to how Officer Daniels would actually make it happen. From what I read, threats were involved, but to have this part completely skimmed over and just leave the awkward extremity that the viewer is brought back into after spending a few moments out in the busy front area of the restaurant just doesn’t work.

Compliance is a film that is based around how far one will go to obey authority, and after finding out that this, and quite a few other stories like it are completely true, the answer to that is pretty damn far. The main problem with the film is that there never seems to be a sense of built-up pressure to the point where it should get out of hand like it does. If your intrigue has been piqued enough to rent this, then just be prepared to spend about 70 minutes wondering why nobody can just say no.

The DVD picture quality of Compliance is quite strong, with a dark, somber feel to the entire picture, while still keeping things visually dynamic. The sound also works well, and helps keep the feel as though there’s a busy restaurant out front while all this is taking place.

Interview with Craig Zobel –
This interview with the writer/director is roughly 10 minutes in length and sees him talking about the real life events that inspired the film, as well as psychological experiments that have been conducted as to just how far people will go when being spoken to by an authoritative figure.

Compliance is an interesting experiment as far as filmmaking goes; however, it’s definitely not a movie people will wholeheartedly recommend to friends without a lot of warning beforehand. I stand by the notion that if they’d put a statement at the start of the film that the events that were about to take place are almost – if not completely – verbatim to a situation that actually happened, that the film would have been a lot more shocking.

Without knowledge of the actual event that took place, and the extremities that it reached, Compliance came off as almost silly with how far it went. Then again, maybe knowing that would’ve just had me still shaking my head, but also wondering how something like this actually did happen, and how so many people could let it go so far.

Entertainment One and Dogfish Pictures Presents Compliance. Written and Directed by: Craig Zobel. Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp. Running time: 90 minutes. Rating: R. Released: January 8, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.