Sandra (Ann Dowd), a highly-strung fast-food restaurant manager, receives a phone call from a man who identifies himself as Police Officer Daniels (Pat Healy); he tells her that a young employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer. Commencing an investigation under his instructions while trying to run her busy outlet, Sandra takes Becky to a back room for questioning. Still directed by Officer Daniels she compliantly follows orders to search her while waiting for the police to pick her up - and continues to follow the increasingly intrusive instructions, involving other staff and even her fiance, Van (Bill Camp).
Review by Louise Keller:
Action and reaction is the focus of this disturbing drama based on true events by filmmaker Craig Zobel, who explores what happens when the voice of authority speaks. In this instance, the voice of authority is a man on the other end of the phone, claiming to be a policeman responding to a complaint about theft. The accused is a shapely young girl, but she is not the only victim. As co-workers and partners become sucked into the 'investigation', the colours of human nature are revealed in this story about power, control, intimidation and manipulation. The implications are frightening and the premise fascinating as we are able to see how something like this can spiral out of control. Yet Zobel stretches our patience and tests the credibility of the narrative - mostly to its detriment.
When the film begins, we meet the various characters who become the key players. There is Sandra (Ann Dowd), the frazzled, middle aged manageress of the fast food restaurant who is struggling to keep her staff on the ball. But she has a human side too - there is a man in her life and it appears to be serious. But the pressure is on. It is Friday night, the busiest night of the week and rumour has it that a franchise quality control person will be popping in unannounced through the evening. Someone left the freezer door open and as a result there is not enough bacon or pickles for the burgers. There is nothing unusual about the young staff that works there - they chat about their personal affairs between the sizzle of the oil as the chips are fried and serving customers.
Like Sandra, when the man on the phone (Pat Healy) introduces himself as Officer Daniels, we are drawn in. Tension escalate as Becky (Dreama Walker) is brought in for questioning. Then comes the strip search. Hmmn. This is the key moment in which we believe or disbelieve what happens next. Dowd is the film's greatest asset and her responses are totally credible. We are given a moment of respite when Becky's co-worker Dan (Philip Ettinger) makes a stand, refusing to be party to what is effectively sexually invasive voyeurism. It's a different story however, for Sandra's fiancé Van (Bill Camp), who might balk at the question of how large are Becky's nipples, but his actions speak louder than words. (This part of the film is not well executed.) We should be hanging off every word as Officer Daniels manipulates and makes his demands. The tension should be palpable - yet it is not.
At first Zobel allows us to only hear the perpetrator's voice. Then we see part of his face, his environment and finally, his entirety. It is not until the end of the film however, that we get the whole story - and it is a troubling one. A mirror to society, it is true to say that there are some people who are more gullible than others. Also that people react in different ways - for many reasons. It's a shame that Zobel is not able to hook us quite as easily as the prank caller hooks his victims.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If it weren't based on a wave of vicious but real prank calls across the US, I'd be inclined to say that filmmaker Craig Zobel was trying to emulate Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke by creating confronting, almost unbearably uncomfortable cinema. But apparently some 70 similar cases have been reported, in which a male caller identifies himself as a police officer and proceeds to control his victims and order them to do things they would never ordinarily agree to do - if it were not for their belief in his authority.
It's a creepy and frightening demonstration of the risks society faces when accepting authority without question. And it's made visceral by the astonishing performances, notably of Ann Dowd as Sandra, the manager of the burger joint who responds to the voice of the law almost without hesitation, without common sense even.
It's easy for us to judge her as we watch the film, blaming her for failing to detect the fakery; but she represents dozens of real people who were caught in similar pranks. Who are we to judge how she might have responded, given all the circumstances. Dowd makes Sandra absolutely real and frightening - in a different manner to Pat Healy's scary Officer Daniels, a borderline psycho, surely.
Dreama Walker has little choice but to play the ultimate victim, whose humiliation is all the more hurtful for her innocence and vulnerability. Bill Camp is terrific as Sandra's boyfriend Van, a man caught in a web that he can't escape, and Philip Ettinger has a small but effective role as a young work colleague of Becky's, who has the most sensible response to the situation.
Taut, uncomfortable yet riveting, Compliance is effective filmmaking and an excellent warning against blind obedience to authority.
Email this article
CAST: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger, James McCaffrey
PRODUCER: Craig Zobel, Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin, Lisa Miskat, Theo Sena
DIRECTOR: Craig Zobel
SCRIPT: Craig Zobel
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Stone
EDITOR: Jane Rizzo
MUSIC: Heather McIntosh
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Matthew Munn
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Bonsai Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: January 17; Sydney: January 24, 2013