Americans have a deathly fear of authority — especially of cops. Endless accounts of police brutality, wrongful arrests, and senseless murders committed by police officers on a seemingly daily basis across the nation, has tilled the soil for criminal opportunists of various stripes to commit their own twisted kinds of attacks against citizens unwilling or unable to stand up for themselves in the face of perceived legal authority.
Writer-director Craig Zobel’s tremendously suspenseful drama derives from one such instance of psychological and, consequently, physical abuse. The story is based on a real-life incident that occurred at a McDonald’s in Mt. Washington, Kentucky. The venue here is switched to a fictional “ChickWich” fast-food restaurant in rural Ohio. Under the guidance of their obsessive manager Sandra (Ann Dowd), a staff of young employees prepare for a busy Friday night rush. Teenaged Becky (Dreama Walker) chats with co-workers near her cash register station. A phone call from “Officer Daniels” (Pat Healy) alerts Sandra that the cop on the phone has with him a woman who accuses Becky of stealing money from her purse when she made a purchase just moments ago. Officer Daniels also claims to have Sandra’s regional ChickWich manager on the other line. Instead of checking the surveillance tapes to confirm the Officer’s allegation, Sandra is only to happy to comply with every instruction given her by the man on the other end of the phone. He compliments Sandra on her professionalism as he instructs her to search Becky’s clothes and purse, before requesting that she administer a strip search. One thing leads to another, and before you know it the situation escalates into a full-scale case of sexual abuse.
“Compliance” is a very uncomfortable movie. It makes us question our own readiness to allow strangers at airports to grope our nether regions through our clothes, or even to strip search us while we act like defenseless victims. The filmmakers do a marvelous job of commenting on America’s military state of “stop-and-frisk” procedures without preaching or ever hitting the queasy subject on the nose.
However troubling it is to realize that, in the past decade, there have been 70 such cases documented as the one we see here, it’s more upsetting to know that such abuses are being conducted in every airport and police station across the country. “Compliance” can be perceived as a dire call-to-action for Americans to stand up to authority and refuse to be violated. There’s no telling whether an evocative film such as this one is capable of achieving such a lofty goal, but you never know what will turn the screw on despicable public policies that inadvertently endorse, and encourage, the heinous behavior on display in “Compliance.”
Rated R. 90 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
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