c o m p l i a n c e
22nd March 2013
Dreama (!) Walker, Ann Dowd
24th March 2013
We’re very leery of ‘based on a true story’ claims here. More often than not it’s an outright lie, in some cases there are minor events that are embellished beyond all recognition. Sometimes it doesn’t make any difference to enjoyment of the film, Fargo for example is no worse for not actually being based on a true story. Sometimes it does colour the experience. The latter being the case with Compliance.
The opening titles immediately contradict themselves by initially stating that the event itself did happen and that the film makers have exaggerated nothing, then stating that the film was ‘inspired by true events’. Clearly two very different concepts. It could be that with the first claim, the film makers are testing their (and others’) theory that people will believe / do anything if told by a figure of authority, only then to have to place the card admitting that the film is only inspired by these events. Whichever the case may be, I started the film not believing that this event happened as told and finished the film the same way.
To roll back a bit, the film tells a day from hell in the life of Becky (Walker), a teenage worker at a fictitious fast food restaurant who is variously tormented by an unknown ‘Officer’ via a telephone with a prodigious battery life and her superiors, predominantly her manager Sandra (Dowd).
I have a couple of big issues with the concept. First up, I simple don’t buy that the ‘Officer’ presents enough information to be taken as read as the person he claims to be. A couple of smart guesses and some clever questioning just doesn’t convince. Second, the crime that he is alleging is simply implausible given the circumstances and the idea of Becky being able to hide any money is just bizarre. How much did they think she’d taken? I’ve seen American money, it’s not that small. And finally, I’m not sure how it’s done in the US but I’m pretty sure the police aren’t in the habit of phoning up to accuse people of crimes. Those issues aside you have to question the slavish adherence to the ‘Officer’s’ requests by all involved. But that is the point of the film.
So having got through points one, two and three above, is it any good? Well, the short answer is yes, it is an impressively tense thriller that throws in some genuinely uncomfortable moments. Casting the viewer as voyeur for long periods, the documentary style feel and relative lack of music makes us as complicit as the people on the end of the phone. To be honest, I’m not convinced there is enough here for 90 minutes, I was starting to feel itchy to leave by the last twenty (indeed, at least six people in the screening I saw left well before the end) but it is an emotionally tiring experience.
Ann Dowd shines in particular as the matriarch of the restaurant, on the one hand dealing with such mundanities as the lack of bacon strips for the busy evening shift but also having to deal with somebody that she all too easily accepts as a thief. She exudes maternal instincts for her young staff member whilst at the same time asking her to submit to some utterly degrading behaviour.
The closing scenes are probably some of the best of the movie. Watching Sandra being grilled by a TV host about her actions and watching her make small talk whilst the CCTV footage of the day is shown is really uncomfortable viewing and shows just how much of the responsibility Sandra is prepared to abdicate to what she thought was an officer of the law. The investigating detective sums it up well when he asks in a voice full of bafflement “When they asked you to take your clothes off, why didn’t you just say no?”. It’s a question I found myself asking for long periods in the movie. I’m sure this would have worked much better as a one hour TV show but that’s not to say it isn’t worth seeing. It’s some of the most uncomfortable cinema I’ve seen in quite a while, it just doesn’t have me asking as many questions afterwards as I would have liked it to and I have the sneaking suspicion that without the 'true story' element, we would all be dismissing the actions of those involved a lot more easily.