Compliance, the latest film from writer/director Craig Zobel, is based on the true story of a man who calls up restaurants around the US and tricks people into stripping and performing….unsavoury acts by convincing them he is a police officer. There were over 70 incidents involving this reported across the country, and now Zobel has made a movie based around it. The actual characters and location is fictional, but upon doing some research, I found out that what happens in the film is very, very close to what actually went down at the incident which eventually lead to his capture. It makes up some things for dramatic effect, but mostly it’s true. And boy, does that make it harder to watch.
There’s a special brand of film that I liken to a hideous car crash. You know it’s horrible and you don’t want to look at it, and yet, as you’re going past, you stare at it anyway, because something so horrific is almost fascinating. Compliance fits into this description perfectly. In the film’s modest 90 minute running time, you will be feeling more and more sick as the film goes on, but never enough to make you stop watching. The performances are what help that along, especially from Ann Dowd, as the trusting manager of the restaurant. Her performance just leaps off the screen, and the fact she wasn’t even nominated for Best Actress at the last Oscars is one of the biggest snubs in my opinion. Every else in the film does a bang up job too, but Dowd is simply astonishing in this role.
So I know I’ve done nothing but praise this film so far, but there’s a big drawback. And I mean a big one. Anyone who knows me knows I hate an unsatisfying ending, and while Compliance doesn’t have a terrible ending in the traditional sense, but it’s less a step down from the rest of the film and more about three flights of stairs down. The general theme of the film is authority, and people’s reaction to it. It’s a very well handled look at the impact the thought of ‘all authority is right’ as had on everyday life and people, and analysing the themes and messages of the film was something I was getting ready to do. However, in the last five to ten minutes of the film, it starts to bang on a bit. By the final scene, it’s essentially hitting you over the head with a sledgehammer with the words ‘do you get it?’ painted on. It’s a shame because in a film with such adult themes and such bleak looking cinematography, it treats us as if we’re five years old and can’t see themes for ourselves. It yells it’s message at you and ruins the subtlety of the rest of the film.
Compliance is a film that I would heartily recommend to any film lover, but I would just be prepared to maybe not be satisfied by the end. It’s a shame, because it really is a great story that deserves to be told, and for the most part it’s told well and in a suitably disturbing manner. It’s just the conclusion that really drags it down to a lower rating, and I really would love to give it a higher score, but for something which annoyed me so much, I really can’t. I am by no means saying do not go see this, because you should go see it. Support a film that’s trying something different and is not afraid to show something as it is rather than toning it down for a mainstream audience. Just be ready for maybe a slight disappoint at the end.