Saturday, October 13, 2012

Compliance (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets

 To see "Compliance" is to be confronted with life as it may be at times. Meaning, it is 90 minutes spent with everyday people: creepy people, self-absorbed people and one person in particular with nothing good about him. As most films have a safety net, do not look for one here. This is life at its most bare and basic and there is no fanfare or resolution. We are placed in a fast food restaurant at peak season. A policeman caller (Pat Healy) informs the manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) of a server the Britney Spears-like Becky (Dreama Walker) and her undoubtable theft of a customers cash and cell phone.

 Chaos ensues.

Becky sincerely and repeatedly claims that she is innocent and she doesn't recall any such altercation with any customer. But the voice of Officer Daniels is adamant and speaks with an unquestionable authority. So much so, that the voice gets Becky to concede a vague, conciliatory apology, as if to say "Gee, I'm sorry, I may have shortchanged someone..."

That is the only opening that Officer Daniels needs to get going. He proceeds to work on Sandra with veiled threats, telling her that there are serious allegations against Becky, that she is being investigated, but that unfortunately their detective staff is tied up. Sandra must do her best to stand up for what's right. The officer speaks with such gravity that Sandra is convinced and begins to act as a proxy cop, convinced that the theft is of national importance. 

What follows is an unprofessional situation that goes from bad to worse. Becky becomes more and more stupefied and rightly so. The camera here is a literal fly on the wall and it is the primary character in the film. We feel the time passing in the small fast food restaurant with most of the action occurring in a supply room and it is something to see.

The camera moves back and forth and sideways, a bit like a dark reinterpretation of Tv's "The Office" without the guffaws. We receive abstract snippets of information: the back portion of a head, part of a finger, a calling card, a grimy notebook, a pencil, the side of a naked thigh engaged in forced intimacy and an over-used fryolator. Director Craig Zobel turns every mundane object into updated objects from a sinister Paul Klee painting. The inanimate objects become anthropomorphized and sociopathic as evil and lacking in empathy as any Ted Bundy tie or collared shirt. 

This is not a fun film but it is a striking and provocative one and you won't believe how far it goes. Everything about the dark side of human nature is in "Compliance". It is as arresting as it is unbelievable at times and it even out-does the films of Michael Haneke. And it contains more amoral hijinks than a Patricia Highsmith novel.

One wishes that Sandra had taken a minute and just stopped reacting out of impulse and fear. After all, how much trouble has mankind got into when people just move on "following orders"? And one also wishes that the story wasn't based on a true case, but sadly it is. And you can bet there are more incidents in life as depicted in this film than we realize. Often, all it takes is a mere sound of authority.

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