Craig Zobel has to thank the inspiration he takes from true events, for Compliance implies, rather strongly, that retail workers care all that much about their jobs. Menial work is hard work. Make no mistake about it. It is also boring work. Perhaps that is why ordinary people are turned toward a life of crime. Excitement is hard to come by in the world of eight-hour shifts. Fast food work is a terrible, terrible job. Credit to those who can do it. I could not. Eight full days and three weeks of training were all this writer could handle. Back to the drawing board for me. Or, rather, back to the desk. That is not a choice for some. It is certainly not for Sandra (Ann Dowd).
After receiving a call from the police about a customer stealing money from the store, all hell slowly, creepingly breaks loose. Sandra is obsessed with her work. She lives and breathes this hellish job of customer service. Zobel, to his credit, has portrayed rather accurately how fast-food workers operate, and how little they care. Who can blame them? It is not satisfying work. But Compliance is not satisfying art. Extreme close-ups of drinks being poured, chips and chicken are not satisfying shots. They do nothing but provide lengthy transitions, for a fade-out or cross-cut would be too tacky. These are the slow, trundling moments that are meant to set the scene for the inevitable drama. The only problem there is that Dowd and the rest of the cast cannot be shifted by the emotionless script.
Everything within Compliance strikes as a tad unnerving, not because it is thrilling, but because it is truly unbelievable. To ask an audience to believe this is “based on true events” is either a stretch of reality or a smack in the face. Do people react to situations like this? Dowd at least shows some exceptional quality, her leading role sees her character follow the usual procedures a manager is thrown through. That is the fixation Zobel has for the first third, and from there it is downhill. When the action and attention turn to the usually dependable Bill Camp, the ridiculous unbelievability of the script and the basis of the tale are ludicrous and obscene. Ultimately, Compliance is complacent in the issues that surround these slight adaptations of reality, where the fictional twist is not worth the efforts behind it all.
“You’re fucked without bacon, I’ll tell you that,” and truer words are never spoken beyond that opening point of Compliance. There is no bacon in Compliance, therefore, well, you know the rest. I’ll tell you that. Recognisable faces yell at themselves, inanimate objects and those around them. But aside from that heightened drama with the orchestral strings plucking away at the introduction, Compliance soon conforms. Everyone is on their phone in Compliance, there is not a lengthy scene without a cellular device. Zobel finds comfort in portraying his characters as isolated, with only a disconnected voice to the side of their ear. That is an interesting point to take up, it is a shame he does nothing with it or the script it is attached to.