Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: "Compliance"

Compliance confounded and infuriated me. Admittedly, I have a dislike for true stories, but this left a very foul taste in my mouth. It is the second directorial feature from Craig Zobel, who co-created Homestar Runner. His direction is very sound, using awkward angles to accentuate the feeling of unease throughout the film. Compliance is based on a the strip search prank call scandal in the United States. Between 1992 and 2004 there were over seventy occurrences in thirty states. I watched the film in a constant state of anger and bewilderment. Why did no one stop? Why did no one question it? How could she let it happen? The film premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Its screening was met with a considerable amount of controversy - more than The Paperboy at Cannes! Compliance is a film that will anger you. As things progress from bad to worse you feel like yelling at the screen. I imagined that if I were in her position I would have just walked out. It is amazing how much power the threat of a police officer - even on the phone - can influence our actions. Dreama Walker, who has appeared primarily on television (on The Good Wife and currently starring in Don't trust the B---- in Apartment 23), offers a fantastic and layered portrayal of the victim. As her emotions travel from shock to disbelief to fright, she makes Becky one of the most empathetic characters on screen in a long time. As strong as Walker's performance is, it is Ann Dowd, as Becky's boss, who controls the film with her performance. She is able to evoke such anger from the audience with her naive obedience. It is shocking and terrifying to watch. Compliance exists primarily within a fast food restaurant. The excellent camerawork gives it a claustrophobic feeling. Craig Zobel mixes in shots of patrons eating in the restaurant, unaware of the crime being committed behind the counter, and it adds such fuel to the anger in the audience. Compliance is absolutely one of the best films of the year with stunning performances from all the actors.

Set somewhere in Ohio, Becky (Dreams Walker) is a nineteen year old girl who works at the local ChickWich. She hates her job, but she needs the money. The film begins with Becky driving to work. It is late winter, as the snow is beginning to melt away. She arrives at work with Kevin (Philip Ettinger), another teenage employee. They find out that someone had left the freezer door open the previous night and $1500 of inventory had to be thrown out. It is Friday night, one of the busiest nights at ChickWich. Sandra (Down), the manager, is frantic because of the lost inventory and a threat from corporate that there might be a secret shopper that evening. Becky spends the beginning of her shift in a good mood, joking around with her shift supervisor Marti (Ashlie Atkinson). That evening Sandra gets a phone call from the police. A man identifying himself as Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) tells her that a woman has come forward to say that Becky stole money out of her purse. At first Sandra does not believe him, but the man gives enough detail for her to fetch Becky. As the night progresses Becky, with the threat of being sent to jail, is violated in disgusting and shocking ways.

Compliance is one of the hardest movies I have had to endure. I felt like I was being victimized as much as Becky. At first I watched in disbelief as she took her clothes off and let Sandra keep them, but eventually I realized that she was so afraid and had already gone down the path and was unable to turn back. I wanted her to question him. If he was a police officer, I wanted her to ask for a lawyer. Members of the audience sitting around me vocalized their shock and disgust throughout the film. Dreama Walker and Ann Dowd are brilliant in the film. I was so impressed with the other actors, too, especially Philip Ettinger and Ashlie Atkinson. Craig Zobel shot the film with an honest approach. That is to say that it felt truly realistic; there was no filter. I no longer read the Toronto Star because I think it is one of the worst written newspapers, and a major issue of mine is the quality of its film reviews. Bruce DeMara gave the film three stars, but complained that Zobel went too far in the story when Sandra's boyfriend Van (Bill Camp) was asked to watch Becky. But if the film is based on the incident in Washington, Kentucky in 2004, as I have read, then Zobel did not go too far, he based his screenplay on facts. That particular scene is jarring, and I can only hope that Becky felt so defeated and violated that she had no will to protect herself. Compliance is a film that will bother you. It will get under your skin and infest your mind. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Dreama Walker and Ann Dowd are so brilliant in the film. I really hope that Magnolia Pictures, which also distributed Take This Waltz, is able to showcase one of the absolute best films of 2012.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment