Friday, August 31, 2012

Compliance [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Compliance (written and directed by Craig Zobel) is a very disturbing film about a truly disturbing (and illegal) series of incidents that have occurred across the United States in recent years: cranks posing as police officers calling unsuspecting "managers" at small restaurants/convenience stores, asking them for "quick onsite help" in investigating petty crimes supposedly "just perpetrated" by one of their on-duty employees.

In the scenario of the film, a crank posing as a police officer, introducing himself as "Officer Daniels" (voice/played by Pat Healy) calls a fast food restaurant called "Chickwich" asking for the manager (named Sandra played by Ann Dowd).  He then tells her that he has in his office a woman who says that "a young blonde" employee had "stolen something out of her purse."  Well, there happens to be a "young blonde employee," a 19-year old named Becky (played by Dreama Walker), working one of the cash registers at that very time.

"Officer Daniels," who says that he already has Sandra's district manager "on the other line" asks that Sandra take Becky to the back, employee-only area and confront her telling her that she's being accused of this petty, just perpetrated crime.  Sandra, wishing to be a good citizen and good local manager does what the "Police officer" on the line tells her to do.  She asks another employee to step in for Becky who she takes her to the back to talk to her.  There she tells Becky: "There's a police officer on the line and he says that he has a woman in his office accusing someone of your description of taking something from her purse while you were serving her."  Of course, Becky emphatically denies any wrong-doing.

At this point, "Officer Daniels" tells Sandra (and even Becky, who insists on talking with the police officer on the phone) that "of course Becky's gonna deny everything" and asks Sandra to ask Becky to empty her pockets.  Sandra dutifully tells Becky to do this.  Protesting and rolling her eyes, Becky complies.  Of course, nothing is found.

Now "Officer Daniels" asks Sandra to check Becky's personal belongings.  Becky protests saying she hasn't been back to her cubbyhole where her personal things are since she began her shift.  Nevertheless, Sandra does what the "Police officer" on the phone is asking her to do.  The two go back to Becky's cubby hole, search through her purse.  Again, (of course) nothing nothing is found.

Now the "officer's" _request_ crosses pretty much everybody's line into the realm of the disturbing/creepy: "You're going to have to check Becky's clothes."  Sandra responds: "I'm not comfortable with that."  The police officer responds: "I'd send a police officer to your establishment BUT 'we're swamped.'  The alternative is that you keep Becky then under watch.  Eventually, I'll send someone over, but then we're going to have to arrest Becky, send her to the station for processing.  It'll take a long time, Becky will probably have to spend the night in jail.  We could settle the matter quickly if you just do _a strip search_ of her now."  "I'm not comfortable with that."  After further insistence/pressure by "Officer Daniels," he allows Sandra to bring in the assistant manager Marti (played by Ashley Atkinson) to be present during the strip search, which initially involves just asking Becky to take off her clothes down to her underwear.  When they check her shirt, shoes/socks and jeans, and OF COURSE FIND NOTHING, the next "logical" step is for Becky to take _everything_ off, so as to check her bra and panties.  Becky protests but does so, she's down to her bra and underwear anyway.  The demand is consistent with "the process" (SOME PROCESS!).  Marti throws her an apron as soon as Becky strips down to nothing.

NOW, "Officer Daniels" asks that Sandra put Becky's clothes in a plastic bag and put the bag in her (Sandra's car) "WHY???"  "Daniels" explains that this is actually "all part of a _larger investigation_ of Becky's brother for drugs."  "Officer Daniels" continues, explaining to Sandra that he's been so adamant in the rather small matter of the woman complaining that Becky stole something from her purse in order to "extract cooperation" from Becky with regards to her brother.  He tells Sandra then that "on Becky's clothes could be traces of drugs that would make an open and shut case against her and her brother."  Makes sense, Sandra puts Becky's clothes in a bag and trots the bag to her car.

But now Restaurant manager Sandra and her Assistant Manager Marti have their employee Becky in the backroom covered only by an apron.  "For how much longer?" the three ask "Officer Daniels."  "Well it's still going to take some time before I can send a squad car over to complete the investigation."  "But we have a restaurant to run."  "Well is there someone, _preferably male_, who you can have guard Becky until I can send a squad car/team to finish this up?"  They first choose a male employee, Kevin (played by Phillip Ettinger), a friend of Becky's to move from his post (making sandwiches) to the back room to "guard Becky."  Though uncomfortable, Kevin initially complies.

When Kevin becomes _really uncomfortable_ with the further demands that "Officer Daniels" makes of him with regard to "helping his investigation of Becky," and simply _refuses to go along_, Sandra calls her own fiance' Van (played by Bill Camp) to "come over and watch Becky until the Police finally arrive."  It's Friday night.  This whole incident has gone on now for a number of hours.  Van's already had a beer or two after work. But he comes over to help out.  Those few beers though effect _what still plays out_ and on multiple levels.

OKAY.  What an incredibly creepy movie.  What's stunning is (if one stayed through the end -- I did, this time -- but I would certainly NOT blame people if they walked out.  I recently walked out of the movie Killer Joe for similar distrust over where the film-makers were taking the movie) that THIS SCENARIO has actually played out IN REAL LIFE some 80 TIMES (!!) across the United States in the past 10 years.  People do trust authority.  In the scenario played out here, it took FOREVER for anyone INCLUDING THE MANAGER and THE GIRL (19 YEARS OLD) to ask the LEGITIMATE QUESTION - "Hey how do we know that you're a cop?"

SO HONESTLY if this movie SCREAMS to YOUNG PEOPLE: "HEY KNOW YOUR RIGHTS" then it is worth it.  And then even the sacrifice of the young actress Dreama Walker playing the 19 year old being progressively abused here (more on this still to follow below...) is PROBABLY worth it.

YOUNG PEOPLE under those famous MIRANDA RIGHTS ("You have a right to remain silent.  Anything that you say can and will be used against you.  You have a right to an Attorney.  IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD AN ATTORNEY ONE WILL BE PROVIDED YOU..."), YOU have a right to a lawyer: "You want to strip search me?  Not unless I have a lawyer present.  Basta."  Yes, her Manager SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT TOO.  But, YOU can know this BASIC RIGHT GUARANTEED BY THE COURTS YOURSELF.  Don't let ANYBODY manipulate you like this.

But now lets go back the movie.  VIEWERS, A film like this can itself become very manipulative and make YOU THE VIEWER very uncomfortable.  REMEMBER TOO that YOU have a RIGHT TO WALK-OUT of a film that YOU don't like.  You probably won't get your money back.  Fine.  But there's NOTHING other than "feeling embarrassed" ("social control") that prevents you from saying "Okay, I'm done and leaving this film" if the film makes you feel uncomfortable.  IT IS EVEN POSSIBLE THAT ELICITING THAT RESPONSE WAS PART OF THE FILM-MAKERS' INTENT (for all kinds of and even artistically / rherorically_legitimate_ reasons ... for instance that the film-makers were portraying something so Evil that THEY WANT YOU GET UPSET AND LEAVE).  So PLEASE DON'T BE SHEEP!!! (Again, I myself walked out of a movie, Killer Joe [2012] not three weeks ago.  YOU CAN DO IT TOO.  You don't have to have a needlessly "short fuse" BUT if a movie gets you uncomfortable PLEASE GET UP AND LEAVE.  You have an absolute (and as THINKING BEINGS even a GOD GIVEN) right to do that.

Now was this movie _that_ disturbing / manipulative to warrant that?  Actually, by various reports, yes, a fair number of people were so upset by the movie that they have walked out of it.  I did not do so this time in good part because I felt indications based on the way that the movie was filmed that the film-maker was not going to take the movie off the cliff:  Yes, the actress playing the 19 year old was shown topless a few times (she was, after all, being asked to strip and then forced to cover herself only with an apron for a good portion of her character's ordeal).  BUT THE CAMERA DID NOT LINGER.  And as the situation progressively got worse (and Parents note that it does), the film thankfully leaves the excruciating details to the viewers' imaginations.

But was nudity required at all?  This is a fair question WHENEVER nudity is considered to be employed in a film.  And there are folks who will say that it is NEVER justified (though arguably one then would have "cover one's eyes" walking even through St. Peter's Basilica / the Vatican Museum in Rome).  So honestly, the more relevant question would be:  

Does the Nudity portrayed (and I would extend this to Violence as well) further the telling of the story or is it largely pointless, gratuitous, or even distracting from the story?  And then I would add a second question: "Is the story worth telling at all?"

I would say that since this situation has played out some 80 times in the United States across the last 10 years, that YES the story is worth telling, ESPECIALLY TO THE YOUNG (here I would I mean older teens and young adults.  The film would be _way too intense_ for a younger teen or below).  Then yes, the LIMITED NUDITY that was present does further the purpose of the story.  IT MADE IT REAL in a way that "fogging the lens, shooting everything simply from behind, etc" would not have.  The camera did not _linger_.  But yes, viewers were confronted with the reality that the character was being progressively violated and in a way that filming the situation in a manner that did not shoot any nudity at all would not have achieved.  Yes, the actress, Dreama Walker, did make a sacrifice here by exposing herself in this way (and yes, pictures of her will now be on the internet probably forever) BUT IT HAD A POINT (and you go to an art museum and you're going to see women's breasts displayed, and yes, DISPLAYED EVEN AMONG THE ARTWORK OF THE VATICAN.  The point is, does the displayed nudity have a point?  I would argue here that it did.

So this is film that is disturbing on a lot of levels.  But it _also_ gives viewers a lot to think about.  But above all, if it saves some teenager or young adult (and honestly, my guess would be that it could save a good many) from being manipulated / violated in the way that the character was manipulated / violated in this film then the film would worth it.  But, obviously, Parents do realize that this is DEFINITELY AN R-RATED FILM.  And I wouldn't necessarily see a reason why someone under 16 (approaching that 17 year old age when teens can go to an R-rated film without adult accompaniment) would need to see it.  But by age 16, when a lot of American teens are working for the first time, the film could serve to help them appreciate their rights vis-a-vis their managers (and authorities in general).  And I do believe that this would serve to as a benefit to them.

So folks, this is an excellent movie.  But it certainly disturbing.


While I almost always add a link to famed (indeed legendary) Chicago film critic Roger Ebert at the beginning of my reviews, I would like to underline here that Ebert's review of this film is _excellent_.

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