Compliance, which caused a stir on the festival circuit with walkouts and shouting matches, asks a simple question: How much will you bend your moral spine under the pressure of authority and conformity?
Based on a series of events culminating in a famous 2004 Kentucky case, the film stars Ann Dowd as Sandra, a harried, middle-age manager at a fast-food joint who receives a strange call midshift.
Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) says a theft complaint has been lodged against one of her young employees, Becky (Dreama Walker). Until he can get there, Daniels tells Sandra that she needs to isolate Becky in a back room.
Over the course of several hours of cajoling, flattery and power-tripping, Daniels gets Sandra and others to humiliate and ultimately assault Becky.
It sounds far-fetched, and some have attacked the film for being an intellectual version of torture porn or for portraying working-class people as easily manipulated and stupid. But what writer-director Craig Zobel has fashioned is a mesmerizing cautionary tale about blindly following orders that applies to everyone.
Zobel doesn't exult in Becky's degradation. In fact, he seems more interested in the complete shattering of Sandra's moral compass.
He is helped by the strong performances delivered by Dowd as a woman just trying to get through the day and Walker as a girl who finds out the hard way that acquiescence and obedience don't always get the desired results.
There's the adage that life is nasty, brutish and short. It's even worse when you're half-naked and locked in a supply room with your boss.
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