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Compliance (2012)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/8/2013

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/21/2013

It seems that every time I'm in a fast food restaurant (especially Chick-Fil-A), there is some manager type holding either a meeting or a job interview in the booth beside me. When this happens, my immediate thought is, "Don't you have an office in the back?" I've overheard some "interesting" things about sales figures during these meetings and they really should be kept behind closed doors. But, perhaps, unbeknownst to us, these companies have specific rules about having meetings in the office, especially after some particularly disturbing incidents occurred in some restaurants across the country. One of these occurrences is re-created in the film Compliance.

Compliance focuses on a "ChickWich" restaurant in the mid-west. It's a busy Friday night at the eatery and manger Sandra (Ann Dowd) is short-staffed and she's dealing with the fact that someone left the freezer door opened and some food spoiled. She rallies her employees as best possible and they get underway. Her work is interrupted by a phone call by someone named Officer Daniels (Pat Healy), who claims to have the general manager on the other line. He states that a customer came forward and reported that a young, blonde cashier took money from her purse. Sandra calls Becky (Dreama Walker) to her office and begins to follow Officer Daniels instructions. Daniels states that he and his men are on their way, but in the mean time, they need for Sandra to assist them. This begins with a strip-search of Becky and continues to escalate as Daniels demands and threats become more and more intense.

At first glance, Compliance may look like one of the dumbest and most exacerbating movies ever made. Until one realizes that it's based on actual events. The story very closely mirrors an incident which occurred at a McDonalds in Mount Washington, Kentucky in 2005. The event made national headlines and was prominently featured on a prime-time magazine show. I rarely watch those programs anymore, but I remember that I happened to catch that one and was fascinated by the story and thus, was very interested to see what Compliance would do with the occurrence. (In case you were wondering, the actual victim sued McDonalds alleging that the company should have warned managers about these hoaxes, as they had happened before, and was awarded $6.1 million.)

Again, Compliance follows the true story very closely and Writer/Director Craig Zobel, here making his second feature, takes very few liberties with the story. And just as with the real-life incident, the story in Compliance will have viewers shaking their heads in dis-belief. The whole point of this is that people will follow orders from an authority figure, no matter how ludicrous they are. We sit and watch this movie and think "No one would do that!", but it actually happened (and there's surveillance footage to prove it). Again, those who don't know or don't buy the fact that these are real events will poo-poo the movie and call it stupid and manipulative, but Zobel is simply recounting the facts as they happened.

Zobel does add some interesting emotional layers to the story. As Becky's humiliation deepens, Sandra becomes more and more invested in helping Officer Daniels. Note that when others ask what is going on, Sandra doesn't say, "Becky's been accused of stealing money.", but rather, "Becky stole some money." At the outset, Becky is portrayed as somewhat of a flirt and Sandra is an older woman who wants to be a good leader, but also a friendly boss. However, these niceties all but disappear once the interrogation starts. Sandra clearly stops seeing Becky as a human being, as she allows others to witness Becky's naked and vulnerable state. Things really take a turn for the worst when Sanra has her fiance, Van (Bill Camp), come in and help.

I did have one major problem with the way in which Zobel decided to tell the story. The whole point of this is that Officer Daniels is not a real policeman and that Sandra and the others were completely duped by him. If you were told the story in chronological order, this revelation would come as a great blow. However, Zobel decides to reveal this half-way through the movie. I felt that this diffused some of the tension. However, I can see how this would actually have an effect on some viewers, who would be yelling at the screen, "Stop listening to him! He's a phony!" Also, I can't help but wonder if Zobel did this to draw attention away from how unbelievable the story gets at time. In his defense, again, he sticks to the story and doesn't pull any punches, save for the most shocking part of the incident, which is handled very artfully.

Typically when we see things like "Inspired by Actual Events", this means that there really is a planet Earth and there really are people, but the rest is made up. With Compliance, we get a movie which actually sticks to the fact, as crazy as they may seem. Dreama Walker turns in a brave performance as Becky, and Ann Dowd becomes the character we grow to hate, as she truly comes across as the middle-manager who doesn't want to rock the boat. For some, Compliance will be hard to watch because of its content, for others it will be because it seems unbelievable, but the film proves that truth can be stranger than fiction and that docudramas can be effective.

Compliance makes you wonder if you really do want fries with that on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no defects from the source materials. This grain typically arises during close ups and is presumably there to add a more "gritty" edge to the movie. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as we can see the pores on the actor's faces, and the depth is notable as well, especially in shots where there is a character in the background. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. As this is a small-scale drama, we don't get a lot of dynamic audio effects here. The shots of the crowded restaurant provide some stereo and surround effects. We also get some notable stereo effects when sounds are coming from off-screen. The film's score provides some effective bass response.

The Compliance Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Interview with Director Craig Zobel" (10 minutes) allows the filmmaker to talk about the production and the movie's themes. He spends much of the interview discussing how the movie questions obedience to authority and makes the viewer wonder if they've ever been in a similar situation. "Behind the Scenes of Compliance" (2 minutes) is a very brief piece which contains clips and a plot overview from Zobel and Dowd. We get something very similar with "AXS TV: A Look at Compliance" (4 minutes), which plays like a trailer with comments from Zobel. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film. It's too bad that Magnolia couldn't/didn't get the rights to the original newspiece which showed interviews with the real Sandra character and snippets from the surveillance footage.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.