JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Compliance (Director/Writer: Craig Zobel) - August 4, 2012


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90 min.

The awful power of persuasion

Since speech began, gifted orators have incited their listeners to bloody unfounded wars, fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes and systemic racism (the latter typically in the name of a higher deity).

Sadly, those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do skills are still employed daily on every scale imaginable. With the Internet/e-mail Age connecting more of us than ever before, it’s now possible for billions to win the same lottery or snap up millions in return for facilitating a “simple” transaction from Nigeria, et cetera.

Most delete those bogus messages unopened—but the fact they keep on coming can only mean that a precious, foolish few get caught up in the something-for-nothing dream.

Telemarketing, on the other hand, by its very nature is far more personal. The dulcet tone on the other end of the phone—right from the opening “How are you doing today?”—begins to establish a personal relationship with every target. The longer the conversation continues, the greater likelihood a transaction will occur for a product, service or donation that, otherwise, would never have happened. Those who have not developed the ability to summarily hang up on these “tele-prowlers” are soon parted with their cash. Little wonder call centres show no signs of ever disappearing even with “don’t call” legislation in place. Some of us pay a huge price for accepting most others at face (or ear) value.

If director/writer Craig Zobel had had the courage not to brazenly assert that Compliance is “inspired by true events,” many more patrons would prematurely leave the theatre thinking the storyline too unbelievable (and uncomfortable) to tough it out to the credits. (At the screening I attended, even one of my fellow critics departed early.)

Necessarily, a compilation of more than 30 “similar” occurrences, the artistic trust chose to combine all of the juiciest bits of truth from the lot with their own vivid imaginations to produce a harrowing feature that—despite a few gripping scenes—leaves viewers wanting to go home and wash the dirt away or laugh themselves silly at the gullibility of the principals.

At work here is a fast-food restaurant on an extra-busy Friday night. With a shortage of bacon and no pickles (the result of a staff error securing the refrigeration system) and a “secret shopper” rumoured to be coming to pass judgement on the entire operation, manager Sandra (Ann Dowd is believably harried if too naïve for her life experience) already has her hands full.

Suddenly summoned to a call from the local police on the back-office phone, the Chicken Queen’s world goes from bad to berserk. The buxom Becky (Dreamer Walker courageously does everything expected even if her character wanted to say “no”)—so Sandra is told after inadvertently revealing her employee’s name—has been accused of stealing cash from an unseen complainant and backed up by an undercover agent. Officer Daniels (the slime meister has a worthy advocate in Pat Healy even as we must await the sequel—albeit with a newly appointed artistic trust—to probe his motives) solicits and receives Sandra’s unwavering support (civic duty: good for the corporate image) to assist with the investigation. The cop is too busy just now to attend himself or find a colleague to visit the scene, so it falls upon senior management to detain the suspected employee in the interim.

So far, almost so good. (Who amongst us has ever had the benefit of such police diligence for the apparent loss of a few bucks?)

From there, the voice of authority plies his trade, leading to a strip search of the hapless cashier on-site (better to do it there, she is told, than spending a night in jail…).

From the moment Becky dutifully unhitches her bra (now with two from management present—thankfully, both women, which is company policy: Really? Chicken joints have strip-search rules and regulations as a matter of course?), the film loses credibility, yet there’s much worse to come.

A parade of male minders (the voice is sympathetic to Sandra’s need to be supervising the hungry crowd), are next tasked with guarding the semi-nude perpetrator (an attempt is made to convince that Becky slips down the road of kidnapped syndrome as she acquiesces to every demand, but her earlier, aptly demonstrated rebellious nature belies that too-fast transition, thus further weakening one of the film’s probable purposes).

Likewise the very human condition of willful blindness (Sandra chooses not to notice that her financé and guard-du-moment is in Becky’s naked company…) tries to tie up the loose ends but only makes the film stop rather than conclude.

The single redeeming factor is Heather McIntosh’s low-string rich, urban-Baroque original score (deftly cueing the French horn when some semblance of reality/sanity comes to the surface).

In less sensational hands, the pathetic rhyme-and-reason as to what drove the sadistic fraudster could have produced a far greater result. JWR

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