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Craig Zobel's powerful true story "Compliance" is one of those movies that almost dares you to look away. As a tense situation grows increasingly uncomfortable, the viewer becomes complicit as a voyeur and participant in a waking nightmare. Just as everyone on screen should know better and should display more sound judgement, you can't tear your eyes from the unbelievable and quite disturbing tale unfolding. It may be the most squirm inducing film of the year. Having caught "Compliance" at a tiny arthouse theater, I heard a lot of discussion outside in the lobby. A fair number of people simply didn't believe that the events depicted in the film could happen. But here's the thing, Zobel's script adheres very closely to the facts of an actual event! There isn't a lot of extraneous fictional material added in for dramatic affect, this sticks to the truth in a straightforward and matter-of-fact way. Based on a real life occurrence in 2004 at a Kentucky McDonalds, the movie's screenplay recreates (although in a fictional setting) what occurred in that store almost exactly according to the restaurant's security video, police reports, and court transcripts.

On an average day at your local Ohio Chickwich, the harried manager (Ann Dowd) receives an officious phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer. He identifies a young employee (Dreama Walker) as a thief saying that a woman customer has reported her taking money from her purse earlier in the day. Claiming he has already spoken to Dowd's District Manager, he asks for her cooperation in expediting the investigation while his team is detained. What follows, playing out in basically 90 minutes of real time, is a psychological manipulation that will have long reaching repercussions. Everyone wants to cooperate with authority (Dowd has already displeased her boss with one blunder today), and no one seems willing to challenge the caller even as things start spiraling out of control. The movie establishes fairly early on that this is all a sadistic prank, and once the caller has the store on the hook--he wants to see how far he can push things. Humiliating, debasing, and assaulting Walker, "Compliance" really starts to examine human nature and our willingness to please.

I won't be any more specific. I will, however, say that "Compliance" has one random scene near the end that is absolutely brilliant in its understatement. Once the police are involved, we spend a wordless journey in the cruiser as an officer drives from the station to the restaurant. At first, I wondered why we were along for this ride. But it makes perfect sense. Zobel, in a minimalist approach, is showing just how close actual help and police were during the entire ordeal. "Compliance" succeeds on two very strong performances. Dowd, a great character actress relishing a leading role, is perfect as the woman caught in this moral dilemma. And Walker, whose defiance slips away to resignation, proves she's one to contend with. It's a demanding role and she is definitely up to the task. I can't say that "Compliance" is fun or entertaining, though, because it purposefully seeks to provoke. It's not a movie you will feel ambivalent about--love it or hate it, you will remember it and talk about it. In that, it is an unqualified success. KGHarris, 10/12.
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on January 23, 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Compliance' is based on a bizarre, real-life crime that occurred at a McDonald's restaurant in a small town in Kentucky. The criminal who committed this crime also committed approximately 70 other similar crimes over a span of ten years; although the crime at the Kentucky McDonald's was the worst.

The odd thing about the crime is that it was committed with the perpetrator on the phone in the State of Florida. SUPER SPOILERS AHEAD. All the events in the film are basically what happened during the real life event; except instead of a McDonald's, the establishment in the film is a fried chicken restaurant.

The perp pretended to be a police officer and convinced the manager of the restaurant, that a young, teenage employee of hers had stolen money from a customer earlier in the day. He tells the manager, Sandra, that his colleagues are busy and she needs to take the employee in the back room, where she is instructed to strip search her.

Any normal person with the slightest bit of common sense would have realized that this was some kind of scam or a pervert getting his rocks off from the get go, but Sandra is one of those people who never thinks of questioning authority, and follows everyone of the perpetrator's directives. Becky, the young employee, who now finds herself virtually naked, is covered only by an apron. The caller manipulates Becky as well, claiming that her brother could face charges, as he is also the subject of a police investigation.

Things become even more cringeworthy (and I guarantee that you'll be squirming in your seat), when the perverted caller convinces Sandra to call her fiancé to the restaurant, in order to watch the hapless Becky. Van is even more of a 'Yes Man' than Sandra and ends up first spanking her for ten minutes and then instructs her to have oral sex, at the behest of the caller. This goes on for over two hours, as Sandra is outside, helping customers. Van finally leaves but calls a friend from his car, acknowledging that he just did a "very bad thing".

After a custodian comes in and realizes what's going on, he has Sandra call her regional manager, who supposedly was at the police station with the caller but in reality was sleeping at home.

How could anyone be so gullible to believe that the guy on the other end of the line was actually a cop? His instructions become so ludicrous, that any normal person would have realized what was going on. But we're not dealing with 'normal' people here. Like the good Germans in Nazi Germany, who followed 'orders', the employees of this particular fast food restaurant, simply 'complied' with the authority figure who was giving them orders. Perhaps they had such a fear of punishment (the manager thought she might lose her job and the fiancé and the store employee, thought they might end up being placed under arrest), that this caused them to become the 'ultimate followers'.

On a moral plane, some have argued that everyone involved in this incident was a victim. For me, at least Sandra and Van, as a result of their absurd gullibility and slavish devotion to authority, are just as guilty as the caller, for facilitating the events that occurred. You can make some excuses for Becky, due to her young age, but it's hard believing that she's representative of the average teenager (Dreama Walker doesn't quite hit the mark as Becky, acting more annoyed than in fear for her life; Ann Dowd, as Sandra, is much more convincing, as the clueless and arrogant company worker).

Believe it or not, the police finally did catch the caller but he was acquitted at trial, after the prosecution was unable to prove definitely that he had made the actual calls to the restaurant. The fiancé ended up getting five years for sexual abuse but the real-life Sandra and Becky successfully sued McDonald's and got million dollar payouts (Sandra claimed McDonald's was aware of the prank calls but did nothing to alert their employees about them beforehand).

One must acknowledge that 'Compliance' is a well made film, which keeps your interest from beginning to end. I don't think writer/director Craig Zobel, should be credited so much in the creative screenplay department, since he basically regurgitated the events that occurred from the real-life incident. And while the tension escalates nicely to the denouement, this is not a film that I'll be rushing out to see again. See it once, and you'll very much get the idea what it's about.

'Compliance' has engendered quite a bit of discussion on the internet about the nature of those morally challenged 'yes men', who are unable to judge right from wrong, due to their subservience to authority figures. Let's hope that this incident (and others like them), are the exception to the rule--that there aren't a lot of people out there who would so readily follow the dictates of such a diabolical manipulator. But judging from history, my optimism about people in general, may entirely be a pipe dream!
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on March 20, 2013
The fact that this incident actually took place is the main reason I am giving this film a somewhat positive review. I read the U.S.A. Today article on the truth behind this movie and the journalist stated that the crime was accurately depicted- except for the portrayal of the victim. The article said that the young girl involved in the story was, in real life, crying and protesting her treatment throughout the incident. If the film had portrayed her this way, I don't believe many people could have endured the entire thing. As it is, it is hard to watch.

If you are going to watch this film you should be prepared to be frustrated and angry with the people who willingly went along with this malicious prank - and in the process, became worse than the perpetrator himself. I've heard of people drinking lemon detergent or drying their kittens in the microwave but this is a documented incident of truly incredible human stupidity and there were others like it in several states.

The film is subtly photographed in a style that helps set the tone of the story. The director keeps the viewer in squeamish suspense wondering "How far will this go?" and "Where is the voice of reason?"(thank god an actual voice of reason does eventually arrive)....The truly hard questions come AFTER the film, when you will ask "How could my fellow human beings be so stupid and cold hearted?" or worse, "Is ANYONE capable of such willing moral blindness?"

This was a simple and provocative piece - well acted, directed, and produced. The main character is a bit under- responsive for her circumstances - which tends to make you mad at her too.
In the end - the film, as well as the actual crime, reveals a depressing truth about people in our society.
A tough pill to swallow.
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on January 21, 2014
This is squirm-inducing, just like the reviewer said. I remember the original case. It enraged me then, and watching the movie enrages me again.
Many years ago, pre-internet, I was in a customer service job, where they trained us that people would call pretending to be police officers. Our response was to ask the officer for his name and department, and tell him we'd call back. We were then supposed to call information for the police department number, call that police department, ask for officer so-and-so, and give him contact information for our corporate legal department. You know, in three years I only called one police department? The rest of those "police" callers hung up.
My point being that the restaurant manager portrayed by Ann Dowd was a monumentally naive and stupid woman. I mean nobody gets be 38 years old and be that dumb, you'd think, but companies that pay low wages look for those people and they find them.
My hat's off to anyone who can convince me their character is that stupid and yet functions in the world.
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on February 3, 2013
This is both a dramatically provocative and important film for anyone above the age of early adolesence.

In the early 60's, Psychologist Milgram did a series of studies in which he persuaded both students and non-students to
administer painful shock to subjects. This experiment was done under the guise of testing learning theory. In many, many instances the subjects (confederates) screamed in pain and begged the subjects to stop. Yet because the subjects were instructed to do so by an experimenter in authority, the subjects (playing the role of teachers) continued shocking the subjects. These findings illustrate the power of authority in inducing ordinary people to do horrid things to others. Naturally the ugly, unforgettable real-world manifestation of this is the holocaust. "I was only following orders" goes the feeble reply when the Nazi and SS were forced to answer for their crimes.

The film "Compliance" is a modern day, dramatic, creative, and compelling reenactment of the Milgram studies. As such, it is a "must see" for academics from all fields, but particularly from those focusing interpersonal communication, leadership, persuasion, social psychology, sociology, journalism, law enforcement, and public administration.

In addition to its suitable as an instructional aid and stimulus to classroom discussions, it is an extremely well acted and
fascinating film. Artistically, it is well photographed, and the dialogue and actors are superb. This story is, in fact, a dramatic rendering of real-life instances of similar crimes committed throughout the U.S.

I cannot recommend enough this intelligent, provocative film.

--Wm. R. Todd-Mancillas
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on November 15, 2014
"Indispensable filmmaking" says Rolling Stone. Wow, I couldn't agree less! 45 minutes along, 2 of 3 in my viewing party wanted to stop the film or at least fast forward to the end. I'm usually a huge fan of independent films based on true stories, but in my opinion, the directors took this project more towards a soft porn than a true documentary of the horror that took place at this fast food restaurant (search Bing for "compliance film true story" and read the true story of where it actually took place). Like most viewers, it was challenging to watch the utter lack of common sense, but I comprehend that is what freaks like this caller pray upon. That said, about 45 minutes along, we got the point they were trying to make and at that point the film could have started moving towards what happened after the ordeal.

Instead, in the final 10 minutes, the producers fly us through a series of poorly linked events and as the film ends, the viewer is sitting there going "what the heck happened"? Absolutely NO wrap-up! Horrible ending. Such a shame because this is based on true events, and the viewer at a minimum should have had a wrap-up summary - even if it was just words on a screen.

The true story is horrifying and like most viewers, I would love to see the perpetrators locked up for life. This film didn't do the story justice. It was painful to watch (because of the film making) and I'm being kind by offering 2 stars vs. one simply because they brought the story to life in film.
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on September 12, 2013
The film is disturbing. Based on true events (everything is exactly as it happened in the McDonalds case, except all names have been changed), this film relays the events that happened approximately 70 times in 30 states. Astonishing to believe that people could be so warped into believing that what they were doing is okay, just because someone in "authority" says to do it. It's disturbing to see and makes you think what you would have done in the situation.
What's great about this film is that they didn't cut corners. If you do your research and see the interview of Donna Summers along with the surveillance tapes, you can see how both the film and the interview/tapes match up.
Great film.
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on March 9, 2013
This movie was very disturbing in its presentation. However, like many others have already written it was not just inspired by true events, it represents very closely an incident that occurred. For more information about the incident, wikipedia "Strip search prank call scam".

It is important that everyone understand what rights they do and not have, because in the end you only have as many rights as you are willing to stand up for.

For example, when a police officer stops you and asks to search you or your personal belongings, do you have to consent to such a search? The answer is: no, but you cannot resist if the officer insists. What you need to state is simply "I do not consent to searches". If the officer continues to ask you further questions, you also have the right to ask if you are being detained. This is information that everyone should know and practice, because way too many people just assume that if someone has a badge or a particular uniform that the officer must know what is allowed under the law and what is not allowed under the law. This is totally incorrect assumption. Just try engaging in a peaceful protest on public property once or twice in your life and you will see how ill-informed and susceptible law enforcement is to using intimidation, even when dealing with something as basic as the first amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievences (language directly from the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America).

This whole topic of people's blind willingness to comply with authority is extremely pertinent in an age where many laws have been passed (such as the Patriot Act) that directly contravene the spirit and letter of the US Constitution. People are much too willing to give up liberty for security, however illusionary and fleeting that security may be.

I'm not a liberal wacko or a fundamentalist conservative, I'm just an ordinary citizen that is very concerned about how little consideration most US citizens give to their rights and reponsibilities as fellow citizens of a country ruled by a goverment that is supposed to be of the people, for the people, and by the people (which is not part of the wording of the Constitution, in case you are wondering, but rather from the Gettysburg Address). However, the US Constitution does begin with "We the people of the United States...". This is an inclusionary statement, rather than exclusionary. If we as citizens don't actively participate in our governance, the goverment is more than happy to do it for us -- to everyone's great detriment.
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on September 1, 2014
I just saw this movie and really wanted to read the reviews of "mr. and/or mrs. average American". I have always sincerely believed that at least 85 - 90 percent of Americans are either sheep, stupid or both. I apologize for my bluntness but I have believed this since I was 18 or so and that's why this movie held such interest for me. I then felt compelled to read the reviews, and was pleasantly surprised to see numerous well considered comments as well as many extremely simplistic ones whose authors were not vaguely aware of what the writer was attempting to accomplish.

In any event the movie was very well done and accomplished it's goal. The movie depicted the average person's likely reaction to being put in a similar position or situation. If your one of those people, and there were many, that said tthere's no way this could have happened you either don't have a clue or believe people are inherently intelligent.

Take a moment to consider that there are billions of people that kill and maim others every day for no reason or because they Are simply told to do so. At least, according to studies, 90% of Americans consider themselves somewhat or very religious. Obviously people can believe whatever they like but would you kill for something that, more than likely, is a fiction. I think the vast majority would and it's been proven time and time again that they wIll and do.

Please don't be too quick to judge and this movie very accurately depicted what most of us hate to think is true. Most people do what they are told to do and that's life. We do need to question all the bs . Just because you are, without reason, told to do something pleasE QUESTION THE INDIVIDUAL AND if it doesn't make sense don't do it. Great movie.
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on November 26, 2014
This is a very good fictionalized version of the true story that happen right here in my home State of Kentucky. The main thing this movie brings to light is a need for education and understanding that not everything you are asked by someone in authority over you in a job is for you to follow blindly.
In the real case the Management like the movie should have known that they were not dealing with a real Police Officer, but unfortunately lines have been blurred between fiction and reality so long that there are people who really don't understand what they can and can't do.
A good rule of thumb is to always question something when you have doubts always ask for someone else even calling the local Police yourself if necessary. No civilian including a Manager can hold you against your will at a job regardless of anything they are accusing you and without an actual Uniformed Police Officer or Detective from the PD there on the scene it should always be questioned.
This movie is really good in the fact that it shows one a lot of things that shouldn't be done and one that a lot of people especially young people need to watch and be aware of. Knowledge is often the first key at defending yourself against a situation that isn't legal.
As I said this happen in real life here in my home State and it was a horrible breakdown on many sides. If your a Manager over anyone and especially young Women you should be more than skeptical when a Police Officer calls you on the phone because if there is a real problem they will be there in-person!
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