Directed by: Craig Zobel
Written by: Craig Zobel (screenplay)
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy and Bill Camp
Compliance is so bad that I hesitate even writing about it. It is filled with such an entitled sense of purpose and meaning that the cruel sexist joke it ends up becoming is all the more disheartening. Supporters of the film will have you believe that because it is based on “true events” that its morality is somehow less disturbing. To them I would say: The Blind Side.
Craig Zobel, the writer and director of this movie, knew exactly what he was doing. In portraying an infamous fast food prank call caught on security cameras where a manager talks with an alleged police officer and obeys his every whim, he ends up illustrating a sadistic fantasy under the guise of morality. Sandra (Ann Dowd), a middle-aged manager at the fictional fast food chain Chick-Wich, is the principle woman on the other end of that phone. A man posing as a police officer (Pat Healy) calls her claiming that one of the cashiers (Dreama Walker) was caught on camera stealing from a customer’s purse.
What ensues is a strip search, an anal examination and a forced blow job, with the main message being “Look at how stupid these working class morons are! Be bewildered by their ignorance!” Zobel tells this story by establishing the contrast between the bizarre scenario and the mundane everyday workings of an Ohio fast food restaurant. The pacing is superb and the performances, especially Dowd’s, are detailed and effective. Ultimately this makes the movie even more disturbing though, giving it a false sense of authenticity when it is only a pretentious, exploitative piece of shit.
Before Becky (Walker) is put through this ordeal, we’re made to see how envious the other, plumper women are of her sex life. The envious looks they give her follow through to the actual incident, coating the movie in misogyny. Male characters are the sole voices of disbelief and pity, except of course the demented master on the other end of the phone. They are ultimately just as complicit, but it is Sandra and not them who are dragged through the muck by an uppity network reporter in the movie’s conclusion.
Compliance is a film to watch if you are a white male who wants to feel superior to women while also feeling morally concerned about sexual exploitation. You will be treated to implied acts of physical degradation as well as watch the perpetrators be punished for their actions. It is one of the most self-important acts of having and eating the cake that I have ever sat through.
Okay, per your site name, your schtik is to be cynical of movies. I get it. 😉
But given that it was inevitable someone would make a movie out of the strip search prank call scam, the film that did come out could have been a whole lot worse.
I agree that “Compliance” steps off in the wrong direction in several ways. That includes casting a very pretty actress instead of an average one for the younger female lead. In my mind, the worst misstep is Becky’s final line, when the detective asks her why she didn’t just say no: “I just knew it was going to happen.” What a piece of fatalistic trope BS! In her precious final wrap-up line she should have said what the original victim said when asked the same question: “I was trained to obey adults, so that’s what I did.” Compliance to authority was what the story was all about–and the writer/director totally missed it with that line.
However, given the inherently voyeuristic nature of the original incident, the movie could have been a lot more explicit and exploitative. Some of the worst stuff in the original incident is more implied than shown. Of course, some of it couldn’t be shown, or the movie would have gotten the death-dealing MA rating. Still, the original victim was completely naked throughout most of the incident. Based on that, if Zobel’s main goal was to exploit the story and separate the drooling herds from their money, he could have stacked the movie full of every possible bit of nudity while keeping it just this side of the R rating needed to get it into the theater chains.
All in all, I doubt you’re going to get anything much better about this story in a major American film. Best to just let the inevitable softcore pandering to American audiences and tropes slide off the ol’ back, and focus on the main positive: this movie will get a lot of people talking about the Milgram experiments, blind obedience to authority, and so on.
If you’re interested, here’s my rather lengthy take on the movie from a more psychological perspective:
I enjoyed your comment as well as your lengthy analysis of this film and the incident that inspired it, especially the portion about “self-deception.” Much of the problems I had with ‘Compliance’ were the liberties that Zobel took in adapting that security footage and what is known about the incident.
Since we cannot hear audio on the footage, he implemented dialogue choices that wound up making the men almost the sole purveyors of objection and reason. The scene at the beginning where Becky is talking about how many men she sleeps with while the older, heavier women try to keep up was deliberately included to add some sort of “insight” into why Sandra was so complicit.
The casting choices, as you mentioned, were also used to goad the audience. Sandra, for the most part, looks similar to the real life woman in the news clip I linked to in my review. Becky, though, is much thinner and blonder, which illustrates Zobel’s inescapable adherence to the male gaze. If this is the best we can hope for about this incident, then let it be the last movie ever made about it because I do not want it to get any worse.