Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Compliance: Please Don’t Strip Search Your Employees
cop shows popular in the Midwest anymore?
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Law & Order franchises should understand the principle of
lawyering up. Yet, one teen-aged fast
food employee allows her manager to humiliate her on the instructions of a
caller falsely identifying himself as a police officer in Craig Zobel’s
drama Compliance (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
the manager, is under a lot of stress.
She does not have enough bacon or pickles to make it through the
weekend. Becky is an okay, but not great
employee. When “Officer Daniels” calls
Sandra sight unseen claiming a customer accused the teenaged cashier of
stealing money from her purse at the check-out counter, she is surprised but
not incredulous. Just why the accuser
never said anything at the time is an obvious question never asked. Dutifully, Sandra agrees to help Daniels’
investigation by sequestering Becky in the backroom, rifling through her belongings,
and before long even strip-searching the confused young girl.
course, Sandra cannot find the “missing” money, which allows “Officer Daniels”
to continue escalating the situation.
Periodically, other restaurant employees are brought into this sensitive
situation, who either reluctantly comply (so to speak) or wash their hands of
the mess. To Zobel’s credit, he never
plays any gender warfare cards. In fact,
the voices of reason at this Chick-Wich are all male. However, the biggest offender also happens to
be Van, Sandra’s inebriated fiancé, enlisted to “guard” Becky.
this is loosely based by a real case that even inspired an episode of Law & Order: SVU. While we cannot intellectually dismiss the
events depicted in the film out of hand, it is important to remember they took
place over the course of hours. This is
a boiling frog phenomenon that simply is not credible in a mere ninety minutes. Granted, old Van was drunk as a skunk, but going
from “hello Officer Daniels” to absolutely indefensible acts in about sixty
seconds flat is dramatically problematic on-screen, regardless of the actual
Healy is effectively creepy and authoritative as “Daniels,” while Ann Dowd convincingly
puts a harried every-person face on Sandra.
Dreama Walker (known as a recurring on Gossip Girl) also has some very well turned scenes that help
explain the victim’s mindset. Frankly,
their performances are good enough to sell the initial set-up. It just spins out too quickly into some rather
lurid places. Witnessing it all is
supposed to challenge viewers to wonder what they would have done had they been
in Sandra or Becky’s shoes. However,
many will probably just quietly repeat to themselves the mantra: “right to an
attorney.” After all, third graders can
recite the Miranda warning by heart these days.
the most troubling aspect of Compliance is
its borderline vicarious sadism, essentially condemning its cake and eating it
too. Ironically though, the acts it
portrays will make it easier for viewers to erect walls around the film and
flatly deny they could ever be induced to act in such a manner. Hopefully, they are correct. At times provocative, but also rather messy
and ham-fisted, Compliance is a
notable failure, probably worth viewing at a later stage for those who want to know
what all the furor was about when it so sharply divided audiences at this year’s
Sundance. For now, it opens theatrically
tomorrow (8/17) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: Craig Zobel, Crank call case