Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Compliance achieves what, I expect, most films based on true stories (as this one is) strive to achieve - it makes us think. Anyone can read a Wikipedia article and digest the facts but, in the re-enactment of events such as those depicted in this film, one engages the mind and can begin to ask, 'What does this film have to say about me? What do these people represent in my life?' It is, perhaps, such emotional provocation that has prompted so many to walk out of screenings; the emotion provoked, I believe, is fear. Fear that we too would tow the line in the belief that it'll make things easier, drop our moral guard for an undetermined length of time rather than face an unknown punishment. Writer-director Craig Zobel has a remarkably simple task to hand - this is such a sensational story, he needs change only so little (and, thankfully, he does change only so little). The characters are developed so thoroughly purely through their words and actions, and Zobel's stance on each individual is admirably non-partisan: he keeps Becky a pleasant character throughout, knowing that her own compliance will indict her in our minds, yet tempered by an understanding that it is only her fear of authority that has driven her to such degrading submission, and how many of us would risk taking the long way out and spend a night in a cell for a crime we did not commit. Zobel is skilled at simultaneously presenting a situation from several people's perspectives - we relate both to Sandra's suspicion and to Becky's terrified frustration in equal measure - and his truthful dialogue rarely sounds scripted. The cast is accomplished, particularly Dreama Walker as Becky, and Ann Dowd who is marvellous as Sandra, a faultless performance. Pat Healy can't rise above the hokey conventionality of his role, though, and the film may have been that bit more satisfyingly cruel had it ended on a more sour note - in reality, this all ended with no convictions, and a lot of money-grabbing to compensate for the severe emotional distress. All those wrongs don't make a right.