Director: Craig Zobel
Screenwriter: Craig Zobel
Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, 8/15/12
Opens: August 17, 2012
Many kids have heroes, not only big names in Hollywood or on the football field, but their own friends who serve as alpha males or females. They do whatever their friends tell them to do, it seems. Let’s say your friends who are big names in your fraternity challenge you to drink a dozen beers in ten minutes, would you do it, maybe to fit in or simply because you assume that what they ask is a valid request? And if your mother found out that you did imbibe dangerously, did she tell you, “Hey, Johnny, if you friend told you to jump off the Empire State Building, would you do it?” Surprisingly, some people would.
Craig Zobel’s “Compliance” is built on that theme—the influence of authority figures who appear to make you do what they want you to do even you feel uncomfortable doing it. Nobody asks anyone to jump from the Empire State Building in this story—which by the way is true, with only the name of the fast food joint changed from McDonald’s in Kentucky to ChicWich in Ohio. But several characters here do what they told because they assume that an authority figure could not possibly ask for something immoral; and what’s more despite their discomfort in following orders, they are stupid enough not to investigate and see that the “authority figure” is not the detective he claims to be but simply the local perv.
Craig Zobel, whose previous film “Great World of Sound” deals with a man who answers an ad to be a record producer but discovers that the job is not what he thought it would be, now bursts forth with “Compliance,” a psychological thriller. As such, the movie does not insult the intelligence of the audience, as the tale begins so slowly that an impatient viewer might “switch channels” as it were, but which builds up to a startling crescendo. It gets under your skin (if you’re the right kind of audience member), balanced between prurience and good taste, particularly when a man is ordered to put a pretty nineteen-year-old girl naked on his lap and spank her. He does just this, which, again, despite his discomfort makes one wonder: couldn’t he simply tell the voice on the other end of the phone that he is spanking her while privately telling her to get dressed?
“Compliance” hones in on a small-town fast-food joint, Chickwich, which serves trash for food to customers who have a taste for junk—specifically potatoes deep fried in old, likely rancid oil and chicken smothered in mayo, bacon and pickles, the condiments there to disguise the taste of third-grade, rotting flesh. Sandra (Ann Dowd), the supervisor, answers the phone after giving her youthful staff a motivational talk, acknowledging an Officer Daniels (Pat Healy), the near-by pervert whose carrot-and-stick conversation persuades everyone involved in the store to assume he is legit.
Claiming that Becky (Dreama Walker) has stolen $1,400 from a customer’s purse and that Becky would have the choice of spending the night in jail before official questioning or taking care of business in the basement of the store, Daniels succeeds in cajoling Sandra into questioning Becky. While Sandra talks to the “officer,” she compels her employee to strip one layer after another until she is covered only by an apron. He then manages to get Sandra’s fiancé to go ever further.
With a terrific performance from Ann Dowd, in a role that would suit a Margo Martindale, Zobel delivers the kind of thriller that has an audience cringing, maybe even wanting to crawl under their seats rather than speeding up hearts the way a blockbuster action-adventure movie like “The Bourne Legacy” would do. Ultimately Zobel asks each of us: How far would you go to follow the dictates of a person who convinces you that he has full authority to make wild demands? If this movie falls short of an “A” rating, it is simply because it comes across as a photographed play (one that could easily be performed off-Broadway) rather than a cinematic feast on the big screen.
Rated R. 90 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+