Compliance

29 Oct

Compliance

 

Director: Craig Zobel

Writer: Craig Zobel

Stars: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 90 minutes

 

Compliance is a film that is “inspired by true events”. As such it is a shocking piece of cinema. It focuses on how people react to immoral direction from persons in authority. The setting is not in the military or on Wall Street, but in a fast food restaurant in middle-America. It is all the more powerful for that. What starts as a small and easy going fly-on-wall film about fast food workers morphs into something that is very troubling and very powerful.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) manages the ChickWich and appears to do an effective job. Becky (Dreama Walker) is one of the few staff members that show her a lack of respect. When an Officer Daniels calls Sandra to report a customer complaint of theft, the finger is pointed at Becky and the cop on the phone asks Sandra to keep Becky in the storeroom. The officer reassures Sandra that she is just doing her job and that he will take the fall if the accusation is proven false or if Becky is uncooperative. What follows is a detour into a dark and damaged place where Becky is detained and mistreated on the instruction of Daniels.

The cop on the phone is masterful in his manipulation. He plays characters off against each other and dispenses thanks and threats to great effect. He pulls the strings of those brought in to watch over Becky and he convinces them to overstep the mark. The result is a claustrophobic and taut story with a true escalation of shocks.

Compliance feels like a real-life demo of the Milgram Experiment. That measured the willingness of subjects to perform acts conflicting with their conscience when prompted by an authority figure. Milgram’s work is subject to a lot of debate, but he completed it to try and make sense of Nazi war crimes. Were German people accomplices? Were Nazis just following orders? Those are controversial and uncomfortable questions. Milgram’s conclusions were the same. He felt that compliance can sustain brutal behaviour and Craig Zobel’s film supports the hypothesis.

This is a short, small, but impactful film. The story is shocking and made more so by its basis in real life events. Zobel keeps it tight and the acting is good across the fairly unknown cast. It is no wonder that this did so well on the indie film festival circuit. It is exactly the surprisingly great type of film that breaks out of Sundance etc every few years.

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