COMPLIANCE – The Review
Time for another movie ” inspired by true events “, but this one sticks much closer to reality than recent flicks THE VOW and PEOPLE LIKE US. So much so, that it’s really thought-provoking. And ultimately disturbing. COMPLIANCE is based on a real incident that occurred in Kentucky during the 1990’s. A couple of lines of dialogue are taken verbatim from newspaper articles and network TV news magazine shows. This is one of those rare films that…well, if you go with some friends, expect to discuss it afterwards, from drinks, through dinner, perhaps past dessert. COMPLIANCE is not a film that will evaporate from your mind the minute you pass through the theatre doors.
The setting is a fast food place called ChickWich, home of breaded chicken patty sandwiches and chicken tenders, located in suburban Ohio during a wintry Friday. Frazzled manager Sandra ( Ann Dowd ) is doing the best she can on this busy day. She’s almost out of bacon ( OMG! ) and one of her cooks is sick with ” that thing that’s going around “. To further complicates matters, she gets a call from an Officer Daniels ( Pat Healy ). He tells her that a ChickWich customer claims that one of the cashiers, a petite doe-eyed 19 year-old named Becky ( Dreama Walker ), reached into her purse and grabbed a handful of cash. Sandra brings Becky into the back office and puts her on the phone to Daniels. Becky denies the theft. Daniels tells her that he will come to the restaurant, arrest her, and keep her in jail overnight unless she consents to allow Sandra and her assistant manager Marti ( Ashlie Atkinson ) to search her. And so begins a long, long day of humiliations as the directions of the Daniels are conveyed over that office phone and followed through to aid him in his ” investigation “.
Helping anchor this almost impossible to believe true story are three impeccable actors who should ( and hopefully will ) become better known. I was only familiar with Dreama Walker from the TV sitcom ” Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 “, so I was surprised at her dramatic range in the role of the hapless Becky. At the film’s start, she’s a carefree gal in her late teens, who knows that the future will be much brighter once she’s past this wage slave job. That future seems in jeopardy as the nightmare begins. She’s stunned at first, then outraged at the accusation. But the caller amps up the fear and soon she’s careening from helplessness to hopelessness. For the audience she becomes everybody’s kid sister. She has to be rescued from that cold, dank room. We don’t see Pat Healy as the caller until well after the interrogation has begun ( beside a brief scene as he buys his phone cards ), but once we see him at the other end of line , Healy becomes one of the great screen villains. We can see the wheels in his head turning as improvises his instructions and peppers the conversation with ” cop jargon ” ( thanks to a several police manuals ). This is the banality of evil as he goes about his daily routines ( taking out the garbage, fixing lunch ) always with the receiver almost attached to his ear. It’s a movie monster we’ve not seen before. A true control freak. Sandra is played expertly by character actress Ann Dowd. Usually regulated to mothers and professionals ( lawyers, doctors, etc. ), Dowd gets a chance to shine as the dithering overseer. She seems to be one of those plate-spinners from the old Ed Sullivan TV shows. She just can’t keep all those dishes moving.When we first meet her she’s berated by another company boss. Later she’s insulted not so subtly by her staff ( maybe she shouldn’t have told them that she and her beau exchange ” sex texts” in an ill-advised attempt to seem ” with it” ). Speaking of him, she struggles to keep her man on the straight and narrow, while believing that he’s going to pop the question any day now ( one last chance at longed for marital bliss ). She may be a more clueless, pitiful female spin on Steve Carell’s Michael Scott of the TV’s ” The Office”. Sandra’s so frazzled that she’s the perfect patsy for Daniels. Confusion turns to confidence as Sandra convinces herself that she’s being a good citizen ( there may be a bit of resentment going on since Becky represents youthful promise that passed her by decades ago ). She’s an example of the dangers of gullibility, literally naive’ to a fault.
Director Craig Zobel gets everything right about the restaurant world. The customers at the drive-thru and counter have no idea of the drama going on in the back kitchens and offices ( kind of like backstage at a theatre ). You can almost smell the frozen chicken fillets cooking in the bubbling grease baskets. The film begins almost as a fast food take on OFFICE SPACE with a clueless boss, snarky, bored wage slaves, and cranky patrons. But once Daniels calls, Zobel ups the tension very slowly we’re in for a rough ride. It’s almost as if we’re being held hostage in that cold back room along with Becky. Many times I wished I could jump into the screen, grab a character by the shoulders, and try to scream some sense into them. And all the while you just can’t believe this really happened. My only complaint is a somewhat confusing time line. While night has fallen at the ChickWich, the sun shines brightly at Daniels’s home. That’s a minor quibble. COMPLIANCE is a film that may be difficult to watch, but it’ll be bouncing around your head for quite a while…much longer than a meal at your local ChickWich.
Overall Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars
COMPLIANCE plays exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre