Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rated: R (for nudity, language, and sexuality)
Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Craig Zobel
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
Drama | Thriller
“Sandra” (Ann Dowd) is the manager of Chickwich, a fictional fast-food chicken restaurant. And while Sandra would love to stay home with her fiancé and plan the wedding, she knows she has a busy day ahead of her. When she arrives at work, she finds that someone left a freezer door open the night before and $1,400 worth of bacon has gone bad. It’s nothing an emergency meat delivery can’t fix, but it is yet another complication in a day that is going to get much, much worse.
After a short business meeting (with reminders to keep the freezer door closed), the busy Friday has begun and it’s business as usual—until an “Officer Daniels” (Pat Healy) calls, claiming that one of her employees stole from a customer and an investigation is underway to recover the lost money. But the officer is preoccupied with police business and can’t be there to interrogate this employee himself, so he needs Sandra to search her – her and her belongings, her clothes, and what is underneath her clothes – and to detain her until he can get there.
Of course, the policeman on the other end of the line isn’t law enforcement at all, just a sociopath who is really persuasive and twisted enough to see his work through. Even when he occasionally messes up in selling his story, he’s sharp enough to re-establish his mental hold on those he has duped. The guy is smart. Watch long enough and you’ll find yourself taken aback by an understatedly comical sense of shock, and it becomes overwhelming. All of this and more is what the movie Compliance has for us.
You want to pity these easily called “stupid” people, but when you learn that the plot-points of the movie actually happened, you stop to give things another perspective, or you should. Prank-callers calling stores and pretending to be cops and getting employees to undress or otherwise cause their rights to be violated has been an ongoing thing from 1992 to 2004. Businesses now have playbooks on how to handle pranksters using tactics that involve so-called law enforcement "deputizing" to help them do their jobs. It was because of incidents like these that such corporate policies exist.
Compliance is a low-budget film and it feels it, but its high-power performances and remarkably well-crafted writing and keen directing on the part of Craig Zobel put it in a class pretty much by itself. There is just nothing else out there like it—and this because it relies on a simple cliché that couldn’t possibly be truer: “Truth is stranger than fiction.” No one would think to create such a preposterous-sounding idea for a movie. It would have been laughed out of any meeting of execs anywhere, but here it is – and with an artistically tasteful bend – because it really happened and very little was exaggerated.
Millions of dollars have been shucked out in lawsuits and settlements over stuff like this. Why? Because of the power to please, because of ignorance, because of fear; because it is ground into us to go to great lengths to kiss the asses of those over us. It’s a sad but shocking story, and any comical overtones emerging from the sheer disbelief are really only another reason to be sad. Wow! Just wow!