Jan 23, 2013 Web Exclusive
One of the most buzzed about indie films of 2012 was Compliance, Craig Zobel's searing portrait of social hierarchies and gender roles set within a fictitious Ohio fast food restaurant. Ann Dowd flawlessly plays Sandra, the middle-aged general manager of "Chickwich" who, despite efforts to befriend her much younger staff, remains the butt of her employees' jokes. A police officer calls the restaurant and informs her that a young cashier, Becky (Dreama Walker), is accused of stealing money from a customer's purse, asking Sandra to place Becky in "temporary custody" within the restaurant until the police arrive. Over the course of the next three hours Becky is placed in increasingly degrading positions in Sandra's care as the manager fears the repercussions of non-compliance with the police officer's commands. Based on a series of true events, the film is something of a slow burn, methodically navigating its way through a minefield of excruciatingly horrifying scenes. Yet Zobel manages to connect the greasy environment of the fast food restaurant with the seedy lengths people will go to, and who they'll obey, when placed squarely in the cross-hairs of cognitive dissonance.
In an interview with Zobel in one of the disk's special features, he identifies an interest in Stanley Millgram's "obedience experiments" as the source of his interest in the real life source material, noting his shock and anger at the things people would do when instructed to so by someone they believed to be in a power position. It is this dynamic that the film exploits most, producing a lingering effect and controversial discourse on the nature of human compassion. Though Becky's situation is undoubtedly tenuous, the audience comes to equally identify with Sandra as a result of Zobel's smart characterization of the fast food manager as a person merely half a rung up from her employees on the chain of command.
The disk contains scant extras, including the aforementioned interview with Zobel and two separate behind the scenes looks at the filming, but Compliance is nonetheless a great buy.
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 6/10