Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Director(s): Craig Zobel
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
One of the biggest surprises to come out of Sundance this year was Compliance, a movie met with protest and praise at the same time. It’s not a film that intends to entertain so much as make you realize society’s ills. In writing this review and reflecting back on the film, I had a daunting task, and immediately following my viewing of the film I was unaware of how to even go about analyzing the movie. I went in expecting an uncomfortable film that holds no punches, and besides one of the last few scenes that take place in the fast food restaurant, I was disappointed. I also expected a commentary on society but instead I was left with a film that only embodied the problem rather than commentated on it. Overall though, what I expected was a film that would be good. Perhaps my expectations were too high…
For those who are unaware of the premise, Compliance is a film that is inspired by true events. In this film, someone calls ChickWich, a fast food restaurant managed by Sandra (Ann Dowd), and claims to be a police officer. He proceeds to tell Sandra that one of her employees, Becky (Dreama Walker), was caught stealing and he needs her to help him out since the police are currently swamped at the moment. She agrees to do it believing that it is the right thing to do, and what follows is a series of events that are in the realm of absurd. The unfortunate thing is though, this is ripped straight from the news. The most heinous of acts in the film involves a sexual assault, that is instigated by the caller, but in the film, it’s apparent that the person inflicting the orders from the caller is also adding things to occur. Whether this actually happened, I’m not sure (even after some research), but the film definitely portrays this in that manner.
The problems that arise from this film are when the movie diverges from the actual news story or simply leaves out tidbits. While what happens is all true, there’s a lack of conviction against the one man who sexually assaults Becky, and we never do find out the punishment given to the caller. In reality, the man who performs the sexual assault is given a five-year sentence, and the caller is never imprisoned. That would have been an interesting thing to include in this film, and perhaps one of the very few interesting things that would have occurred in the movie. The only moment when I was actually intrigued was in the final interview between Sandra and a news anchor. Unfortunately, this bit only emphasized what was wrong with the movie. 90 minutes is too long for a film like this, and no matter how much you enjoy uncomfortable films, the movie doesn’t justify its length. There are several scenes that seem like they’re intending to derive tension from the viewer, but instead are boring long-winded sequences where we’re just watching a man drive a car for 2-3 minutes, watching Sandra walk to her car, or some other boring aspect that most filmmakers would ignore unless it served to the plot or atmosphere.
How this film should have been laid out was as a 40 minute feature, perhaps bundled with the 27 minute film Plainview which deals with the same subject matter, and that’s it. Or, simply doing a documentary about identity theft or false identity would have been sufficient as you could spend up to 20 minutes in that one film discussing this situation. Sure, the uncomfortable nature of the film would be lost, but why people are seeing this film is because of the subject, a subject which was written in the news several years ago. The only reason this film serves to exist is to showcase some incredible acting from Ann Dowd. Have we run out of novels and biographies to adapt that we have to begin producing films based on news articles? If you’re going to do that, do it like Safety Not Guaranteed did, and make it the foundations to a film, but not the single driving element in it.
This may very well have been the most disappointing film I’ve seen this year, an honor that was held for a while by Cosmopolis but that film I went into with some trepidation. This one I could not have been more excited to see, and I knew what I was getting myself into, unfortunately I didn’t know that I was just going to be watching someone act out a newspaper article.
Overall: Not Recommended