It's fair to say "Compliance" haunted me more than any film I've seen this past year - it stuck in my mind like a rusty nail, and that's quite a feat. I was still thinking about it 24 hours later and cogitating my response - in fact it's been nearly a month since I saw it in the cinema and now felt like putting my thoughts down in a review. It's a contentious film, and one that has polarised opinion. What I saw was an an expertly made, brilliantly acted "real life" drama for grown-ups that asked serious questions about our willingness to capitulate to authority, no matter what the moral implications are, prompted by the famous Stanley Milgram experiments. There are elements of the story that seem too outlandish to believe, but basic research into the actual events reveal how accurately, almost to the smallest detail, writer/director Craig Zobel approached the story. The age old "what would you do" question circles uncomfortably as you watch with no small amount of horror as a prank call police interrogation to a busy, understaffed fast food restaurant goes too far; the terrible consequence of the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who's to say what can happen if circumstances and events align so inauspiciously?
Ann Dowd has rightly won plaudits for her performance as the middle aged restaurant manager Sandra, stressed out, easily manipulated and out of her depth.
Her final scenes, dolled up and defending her actions in a television interview, are devastating. Dreama Walker also gives a highly plausible and well pitched performance as Becky, the girl subjected to false accusations of theft and then humiliation and abuse. My only criticism in a decent cast would be Pat Healy's performance as "Officer Daniels" which veers a little toward stock villainy - he is revealed early on, perhaps too early, enjoying his game and making a sandwich while suggesting improprieties - truly the "banality of evil".
I have a suspicion that a good deal of the negativity surrounding the film from the general public, currently pushing the IMDB rating down to 6.4, is based more on the unpleasantness of the sensations the film generates rather than a criticism of the quality of the film. We are entirely complicit watching the film unfold as Zobel shoots the film as if we were present -
that voyeurism, as we watch Becky undress, is deeply unsettling and testament to how effectively the film brings this story to life; having a negative and affronted reaction is what you should be feeling if you have a sound moral compass. There are frightening implications to the realisation, especially if you are a man, that you would quite like to see Becky without her clothes on. How far that feeling pervades the events of the film is for individual conscience and contemplation .