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Film Criticism by David O'Connell


January 17th 2013 03:48

A fast food outlet in small town America receives a phone call from a man purporting to be an officer of the law. The store manager Sandra (Anne Dowd) is informed by Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) that one of her front-of-house employees, Becky (Dreama Walker) is guilty of stealing money from a customer, a fact backed up by his own team’s surveillance. Unable to attend the scene he instructs Sandra to perform a series of actions on his behalf.

A ritualistic violation by proxy begins through the harried Sandra and other employees, progressing from an invasion of privacy to far more serious crimes. Inspired by true events, Compliance is a scary examination of our darkest fears and the threat of being exposed to our most base weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Alternatively it may be viewed as a less than enlightening illustration of humanity's continued descent into a zombified state of rank stupidity.

The chief implication of Craig Zobel's Compliance is that when the authority of law enforcement is invoked, individuals often act like pre-programmed rats in a cage. Are we really so susceptible to suggestions that contravene our basic knowledge of the world and the way it operates? In this case, as Sandra robotically follows orders, the assumption of innocence is deleted – as is the need to assert basic rights and question a series of commanded actions in the light of their moral and ethical inappropriateness.

Compliance (2012) certainly makes for compelling viewing. Is the fact that it angers, infuriates and becomes harder to stomach as it progresses a testament to the effectiveness of Zobel’s film as an instructive tool, or a depressing reflection of the inanity which blights humanity and allows such absurd miscarriages of justice and moral surrender to occur?

Zobel certainly poses fascinating questions. Perhaps the cut and dry conclusions you’ll rashly jump to camouflage deeper, more disturbing truths. The performances of all cast members are excellent and generally naturalistic, especially those of Dowd and Walker in the key roles of the acquiescent store manager and her accused employee. True, Becky’s generally meek submission may test credibility but who’s to say how any of us might act under these circumstances? At key junctures, the Philip Glass-influenced minimalistic figures of Heather McIntosh’s score act as jagged accusatory refrains that underline the downward spiral of humanity’s loss in the face of this insidious strain of evil.

Compliance opens in limited release on Thursday, January 17 in Australia.


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2 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by JohnDoe

February 16th 2013 14:42
Fascinating film and a marvelous review David,

I just watched the actual security footage of from the McDonald's in Kentucky and was astonished that none of the story is formulated.

Comment by David O'Connell

February 18th 2013 04:17
Thanks JD, really is an interesting and little film - and certainly disturbing in its implications. Passed by in one cinema here without registering a blip on the radar, sadly, as so many smaller films do.

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