- Movie Rating -

Compliance (2012)

| December 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

Craig Zobel’s Compliance epitomizes the word “challenging.  It presents a scenario that we are surprised to find is all too common and asks us to make a judgment call in our own minds about what we would do in the situation.  It asks deep questions about who constitutes the limits of authority.  The movie isn’t completely successful, but it leaves your mind very busy when it is all over.  When the film played at Sundance this year, some people walked out.  Perhaps they were feeling a bit too challenged.

Here’s the scenario:  At a busy fast food restaurant, the manager receives a phone call from the police telling her that earlier in the day one of her employees stole money from a customer’s purse while it was on the counter.  The officer says that the victim is presently at the police station filing a report.  He tells the manager to hold on to the girl, named Becky (Dreama Walker), until an officer gets there.  Becky maintains her innocence.  The officer says that the police and the FBI are building a file against her for other infractions involving her brother who is heavily involved in drugs.

Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, stays on the phone in her office with Becky and the assistant manager and the officer still on the phone.  He tells her that the police have been having a very busy day and it is difficult to get an officer free who can get down there.  Just keep her there, he tells her.

At first he makes a reasonable request.  He asks Sandra to have Becky empty her pockets.  He tells her that the money must be found.  Then, slowly and very professionally the officer informs Sandra that, based on the circumstances, she will have to perform a strip search.  Sandra complies but is very confused by the whole situation.  What follows are an increasingly serious series of orders from the officer that become stranger and more bizarre.  Sandra complies because it falls to her mind that this man is an officer of the law and his word is solid.

There is a question that enters our minds almost from the beginning.  Is the person on the other end really who he says he is?  Is he an officer, or just someone playing a very sick joke.  We find out that answer to that question fairly early on (I won’t spoil it)

I must give away some details that may be regarded as spoilers.  If you don’t want to know any more, stop here.

The scenario is compelling.  What would you do?  How far would you go on the word of someone who says they are an officer of the law.  Most of the movie takes place in that tiny office.  The actors, all of whom are new, give convincing performances, especially Ann Dowd as the befuddled manager, she’s terrific.  Zobel’s cinematographer Adam Stone shoots the film like a home movie.  We feel as if we are in that tiny office with them.

The movie isn’t completely successful.  The manager, the assistant manager, a fellow employee, and even Sandra’s fiancé end up talking on the phone with the officer who makes bizarre requests in an effort to retrieve the stolen money from the girl despite the fact that she is naked except for an apron.  The problem with the script is that there should be an obvious tipping point at which they become suspicious, but they don’t. They comply with the officer’s orders long after they should have suspected that something was up.  By the time we get all the answers, a frustration has set into our minds because we know that they should have simply hung up the phone.

The movie is difficult to recommend.  On the one hand the experience of this scenario is gut-wrenching and difficult to watch, even though we are fascinated by what is happening.  The other problem is that we are applying common sense where the characters are not.  Maybe that’s where we find ourselves, asking the question of what we might have done.  What would you do?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Indie