Compliance Movie Review
If a movie's success is measured by its ability to get under our skin and provoke a reaction, then this might be the film of the year. Designed to make us furious, this drama pushes us to the brink as we shout at the characters for being so naive. But the events depicted are based on actual experiences, and the more we think about this, the more unnerving it becomes. It might be impossible to believe that anyone could be this stupid, but can we really be sure we'd make better decisions?
Award-winning actress Ann Dowd (who also played Channing Tatum's mum in Side Effects) stars as Sandra, manager of a ChickWich fast-food outlet in Ohio. She has the usual issues with her young employees, who think she's out of touch, but is happy because she expects her boyfriend Van (Camp) to propose tonight. Then she gets a phone call from Officer Daniels (Healy) telling her that her young employee Becky (Walker) has stolen cash from a customer. He asks Sandra to detain Becky in the office and search her belongings. Sandra makes sure the assistant manager (Atkinson) is present, but she becomes more hesitant about Daniels' more extreme demands. And over the next few hours, he pushes things much further, getting Becky's young colleague Kevin (Ettinger) involved, as well as Van.
Writer-director Zobel structures the film perfectly to strike a nerve. As outsiders we are naturally more suspicious, wondering how Sandra knows that the man on the phone is actually a cop, especially when be begins to bully her with threats. She just wants to do the right thing, and questions all of Daniels' requests, but for us looking in we can't help but think that what he's saying is so preposterous that she needs to just put a stop to it. Cleverly, each character has a very distinct reaction when they get on the phone with Daniels. But as the situation escalates into something unthinkable, we can't understand why no one becomes a voice of reason.
All of this is depicted with raw honesty that continually catches us off guard. Dowd delivers a bracingly natural performance as the women ostensibly in charge, while Walker is both skeptical and frighteningly vulnerable. All of the characters are playing with the question of how far we would go to comply with someone we perceive to be a policeman, even if what he asks us to do is unreasonable. We would like to think that we'd stand up to him. Then the film reminds us that there have been more than 70 reported instances of this happening. How many films provoke such a big reaction and then make us doubt ourselves? Amazing.