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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: Compliance

Craig Zobel, who was last at Sundance in 2007 with Great World of Sound, a sharply directed and acted film about a record producing company scam, is back at Sundance this year with a film about a different sort of scam, Compliance, an equally sharp examination of what happens when Sandra, a fast food restaurant manager, receives a phone call from a police officer informing her that one of her young employees, Becky, has been accused of stealing from a customer’s purse and must be detained.

It’s a stressful day for Sandra, one that started with the discovery of a freezer left open and over a thousand dollars of food lost, and the looming possibility of a “secret shopper” quality control visitor, and perhaps that strain contributes to all that unfolds over the next 80 or so minutes of utterly riveting screen time as Sandra complies with the increasingly bizarre requests made by the the caller. And what happens in the course of this story would be unbelievable – if it wasn’t all based on a true case of a McDonald’s manager and employee in Kentucky.

Zobel builds on solid, sympathetic performances by Dreama Walker as Becky and Ann Dowd as Sandra as he weaves this decidedly unsettling tale that’s really about how easily a person can be drawn into complicit obedience to a perceived authority figure, and in doing so commit acts that degrade another human being, even as their conscience and gut instinct should be screaming at them to stop. A friend commented over lunch after today’s screening that this is what the Nazis understood, the way that average people will blindly go along with authority, how they’ll harm others while making the excuse that they themselves were only following orders. It’s easy enough while watching this intensely uncomfortable film to judge these people and think that no one could possibly be so gullible; then we learn at the end that there were over 70 real cases, it makes you just shake your head in despair at the things we humans are capable of.

Compliance has generated a fair degree of controversy here at Sundance, but personally I found it more fascinating than deliberately antagonistic. The story is engrossing on its own merits, in part because you can’t believe what you’re seeing, but also because Zobel does a superb job of building dramatic tension as things escalate from bad to worse. Some terrific editing and cinematography choices effectively guide the tone and tension, as Zobel takes us back and forth between Becky’s plight in the office and the normal, bustling routine of customers coming and going, food bought and consumed, and Becky’s fellow employees going about the routine of their jobs, all the while mostly unaware of what’s happening to their friend and coworker. Zobel also uses a great many insert shots to break the tension at just the right moments, giving us a much-needed break from the dramatic tension and isolation of the office.

It would have been easy to go over the top as things progress in the story, but Zobel is restrained when he needs to be, creating just enough edginess to make the audience increasingly uncomfortable, without crossing the line into our own voyeurism of the unfolding events as exploitation. It’s a fine line, but he manages to walk it. Compliance is by no means an easy film to watch, but it is very, very good.

2 Responses to “Sundance Review: Compliance”

  1. Paul D/Stella says:

    Anyone who has a hard time believing how far things go, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgCSps6KgdY.

  2. Jannie Grey says:

    I would say it takes heart and real conviction to sit through the entire movie as things keep on getting worse and worse. Really hard hitting movie. Most controversial of the year i think.

    Jannie

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“Most of these women were in their early twenties. Most of them refused to go any further with him, but a few went to dinner, or to some sort of casting situation, or to someplace private… if the stories were just about some crazed sex addict who approaches thousands of women on the street trying to get laid, I wouldn’t be posting this now. I don’t want to be attacking every Hollywood douchebag who hits on countless women. That type of behavior isn’t cool, but I think it’s important to separate douchebaggery from any kind of sexual coercion. But the women I talked to who DID go someplace private with Toback, told stories that were worse than the women only accosted on the street… So I did what I could do in my impotent state – for over twenty years now, I’ve been bringing up James Toback every chance I could in groups of people. I couldn’t stop him, but I could warn people about him… I’ve been hoping the Weinstein/O’Reilly stuff would bring this vampire into the light (him and a couple others, frankly). So I was happy today to wake up to this story in the L. A. Times.”
~ James Gunn

“BATTLE OF THE SEXES: Politics and queerness as spectacle/spectacle as politics and queerness. Pretty delightful, lovely, erotic. A-

“Not since EASY A and CABARET have I seen Emma Stone give a real sense of her range. Here, she has pathos and interiority and desire. I love the cinematography and the ways in which the images of the tennis icons are refracted and manipulated via various surfaces/mediators. Also, wild how a haircut is one of the most erotic scenes in cinema this year. Spine tinglingly tactile that feels refreshing. Proof that *cough* you don’t need to be ~graphic/explicit~ to be erotic *cough*. Also, it made me want to get into tennis. Watching it, at least.

“There are interesting touches and intimations as to the cinematic nature of sports, & unpacking the formal approach of broadcasting sports.Also, I was here for Sarah Silverman smoking. And also, hi Mickey Sumner!! It’s a really interesting film about the ways in which public spectacle is never apolitical, and how spectacle is prone to assignation.

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~ Kyle Turner