Part of me is split on whether or not there’s really any relevance behind producing a film like COMPLIANCE, and I say that with total candor. Having watched it from start to finish – having sifted through its colorless performances, its grim but determined story exploring the nature of the great American workplace – I’m kinda/sorta stuck on what I could positively say about it, other than to remark that I felt like I needed a long, hot shower afterwards. Performances are good, mostly, though there are many, many moments that were unconvincing (at least to me); and the script made use of its central conceit – a telephone call from a faceless voice alleging to be a police officer who spends, literally, an entire workday directing people to do things that are clear violations of the law – for far too long for it to be remotely credible. (Yes, I know it’s BASED on a true story.)
For example, imagine that you did something stupid. Embarrassingly stupid. Violated and demeaned and debased yourself in ways you can’t even bring yourself to put in your head as you sit here reading this review. Imagine that only you and, say, 50 other people have ever been documented in the history of the known universe into doing the same senseless, insane, stupid thing that broke multiple laws, harmed countless people, and exposed everyone to tremendous legal, personal, emotional, and psychological jeorpardy. And, yes, I mean REALLY stupid. Capital ‘S’ stupid. Feloniously stupid.
Then, imagine someone made a film about it.
See, what happens when you make a small or big budget picture about something so grievously wrong is that you end up glamorizing it by the very nature of finding the story fit for the telling and retelling. You give it more credence than what it deserves by crafting a narrative, in securing finances, by hiring actors and technicians and an entire crew, and capturing such inane stupidity in bold, imaginative colors. You bring it to life in a way that transcends the trivial – why, after all, would you WANT to bring this story to life since, statistically, this occurrence establishing itself as a norm is beyond comprehension?
Well, the only answer to that I can give is that you want to deliver a message.
If the message is benign and not meant to indirectly satirize or even lampoon the folks involved, then I’d imagine that your message is intending to educate others about the perils of this happening to them. That, in itself, is a good message … but, if that’s the case, why wouldn’t you say as much in the narrative? If the message is, let’s say, one of indifference, that you don’t have a clear message, and you only wanted to pose the circumstances and then have folks “discuss it,” then again it’s mostly benign, but what guarantee would you make your investors? “Here, I want to make this picture just to get the audience talking because the more they talk the more money you can make back on your investment.” That certainly wouldn’t inspire me to give money to such a project. Lastly, if your message is one of indirect harm – one meaning to exploit a tragedy and indirectly denigrate the stunning number of knuckleheads a pathological liar managed to implicate – should you be allowed to make such a picture? Isn’t that ‘libel,’ of a sort?
Because so much of COMPLIANCE ends up glorifying the actions of the charlatan who got the ball in this story rolling, then, sadly, I’m only left with the impression that Zobel intended to exploit a tragedy for material gain, meaning “a hit film.”
I’d encourage you to Google how poorly the film was received at Sundance, how the audience there were treated by Zobel (keep in mind I wasn’t there so I’m only communicating second-hand impressions), and then sit back and think about what you just watched. Think about all of the filmmakers who’ve engaged audiences for years – decades, in fact – and then think about how Zobel greeted what sounded like an unsupportive audience: "I don't like to say people are stupid, so the film for me was retroactively saying, 'What part of human nature lets this happen?'" When you glorify violence against women – young, old, large, small, and there are plenty of victims in this picture – do you think you should proactively respond by indicting possibly your audience?
If you want to know more about COMPLIANCE, then check out the other reviews. Others will gladly and graciously cover the plot, give kudos to the cast and crew, tell you the highs and lows, etc. Occasionally, I’d rather know how someone felt about the film, and it didn’t make me feel good. Not about myself but about those who made it. Call me a prude, if you like. I’ve been called worse.
COMPLIANCE is produced by Bad Cop Bad Cop Film Productions, Dogfish Pictures, and Muskat Filmed Properties. DVD distribution is being handled through Magnolia Pictures. As for the technical aspects, the production looks and sounds solid. This isn’t a bright film (stylistically), and it isn’t meant to be. It’s necessary drenched in dark colors. There’s nothing kid-friendly about it, and you probably don’t want to watch it as a date movie, that’s for sure.
MODESTLY RECOMMENDED. While I think there’s something of value in any motion picture, I’m hard pressed to give COMPLIANCE a full recommendation. Certainly, human resources and training professionals might find greater value in the film than the lay person (and I say this as someone who has worked in H.R.). Otherwise, there’s so much that happened here that just defies belief. Yes, I know it was based on a true story, and, yes, the film cites that over seventy similar incidents are on record, but seventy incidents compared to the entire population of the world means the probability of it being a ‘phenomenon’ is ridiculously rare. Instead, I’d imagine that writer/director Zobel and much of the Hollywood Left delight at glamorizing yet one more time how stupid Americans can be misled to do horrifically stupid things.
Oh, yeah … last I knew, we learned it from the movies, no?