Movie Review: Compliance
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
If you go to see "Compliance," you'll probably have to fight the urge to scream at the screen.
The movie, based on true events, is almost hard to believe. A manager of a fast-food restaurant, Sarah, receives a phone call from a man identifying himself as Officer Daniels. He says a woman has come to the police station, claiming that Becky, who works at the restaurant, stole money from her purse. And the officer wants the restaurant manager to take Becky to the rear of the store and hold her until police arrive.
Becky (Dreama Walker) denies having stolen the money, but the officer on the phone seems convinced that she's guilty. He tells Sarah (Ann Dowd) to search Becky's locker, her purse and elsewhere. When Sarah fails to find any money, the officer threatens to come to the restaurant, arrest Becky and hold her overnight in jail. The only way to avoid this is to find the money, he says.
And that's when the ordeal takes a really bizarre twist. He wants Sarah to strip-search Becky. He says he has the restaurant's district manager on the other line and that such a search has been OK'd by the company.
At no point does Sarah suspect that anything is amiss with the officer. She follows orders. She doesn't want to cause trouble. And she's afraid to upset her boss. So she does what the officer on the phone orders. And things go from bad to worse.
That's when you'll start being very uncomfortable — and wonder what on earth the restaurant manager is thinking. And that's also when the audience discovers, unbeknownst to either Sarah or Becky, that the officer on the telephone is a fraud — a vicious prankster who's calling on a prepaid cellphone and trying to humiliate both Sarah and Becky.
With "Compliance," director Craig Zobel raises multiple questions about what we might do when we don't question authority — and how far we might go in order to please people we see as powerful.
As played by Dowd, Sarah is unsure of herself. But she's a big fish in a small pond, and she wants to keep her job. Perhaps that's why she goes along with what the man on the telephone is telling her. But the situation raises uncomfortable questions about whether we would do the same.
Pat Healy plays the fake officer with a calm, reasonable-sounding resolve, and he seems to have an answer for every question or objection raised by Sarah or Becky.
But it's hard not to feel furious over Sarah's compliance, her acceptance of allegations against an employee by someone who claims to be a policeman but doesn't offer any proof.
Director Zobel, who wrote the script, says he based the movie on an incident that occurred in 2004 at a McDonald's in Mt. Washington, Ky., a suburb of Louisville. But as he researched the case, he says he discovered that more than 70 such prank calls had been made over nearly 10 years.
Zobel, whose previous feature was "Great World of Sound," gave his script to friend and Austin director David Gordon Green, who signed up as executive producer.
The movie premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and later screened as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival.
It's a squirm-in-your-seat kind of experience. But it deserves to be seen.