Dreama Walker in "Compliance"

Dreama Walker in “Compliance”

Over the past week I had two conversations about the current state of both movie going and watching movies on home video.  In the first, a friend said he was tired of movies lately as there were no good new mainstream movies that he wanted to see.  In another conversation I was asked how a person might go about seeing a movie newly released on DVD?  After all, the person reasoned, video rental stores, with some notable exceptions, are gone.   The conversation about no good movies, is something that ebbs and flows throughout the year.  As for the home video related question, there is the public library and there are subscription services.  I tend to favor Netflix.

As a way to satisfy both conversations, I went on line to Netflix.  Perhaps because of my taste preferences (which can sometimes veer tend toward the controversial), Netflix suggested that I might like the movie “Compliance,” which I  could watch right away, on line.  It is a little scary how on target Netflix can be about knowing my movie preferences, but there it was.  Oddly enough, a while back I had seen the trailer for “Compliance,” in a movie theatre, and thought it looked interesting.  I had filed “Compliance” somewhere in the back of my mind, along with the many other titles that will probably take me two more life times to see.  Now the Netflix computer was reminding me. 

“Compliance” is a film which received limited theatrical release in summer of 2012. Prior to that it had screened at the Sundance Film Festival where it became a source of controversy.  Reports say that several audience members walked out and that shouting matches occurred during the film’s post screening question and answer period.

Be warned.  “Compliance” is a very disturbing film but also one that is jaw dropping, compelling, infuriating and quite believable.  Should you decide to watch it on line make sure that a. You have enough time to watch the entire film in one sitting (because once it starts you will not want to hit the “pause” button). b. Make sure that there are no children in the room.

From the film’s opening shots “Compliance” displays an intensity before anything even happens.  Director Sean Durkin proceeds ahead shooting the movie in documentary style with the confidence that he has quite a story to tell…and he does.  He also has a stellar cast that makes what could have been an improbably story quite credible.

Sandra (Ann Dowd), the harried manager of a fast food restaurant is having a bad day.  About fifteen hundred dollars worth of her restaurant’s food supply, for which she is responsible, has just gone bad.  In addition, she knows that the corporate powers that be are sending in a spy, in the guise of a customer, to make sure that her franchise is up to snuff.  Her job is on the line.  Clearly Sandra is a character with a dramatic need to please those in authority. When she receives a phone call from a man identifying himself as Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) who claims that one of Sandra’s cashiers, a cute blonde girl named Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer, Sandra wants nothing more than to comply with the officer’s demands.

The demands, from the disembodied Officer Daniels, as to how Sandra should deal with Becky, become more and more extreme.  Other characters become involved.  Although fiction, “Compliance” claims to have been based on 70 similar events that have happened in 30 US cities.

“Compliance” reminded me of the famous experiment conducted by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in which volunteers were ordered to give higher and higher electrical shocks to other volunteers (who were actually actors pretending to be shocked).  The point of the experiment was to see how far the volunteers, who thought the situation was real, would go in torturing another human being simply because someone in authority was giving permission to do so.

“Compliance” is an intense, realistic film with a stellar cast.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 12, 2013, in Now on DVD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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