44 Days of Paranoia #26: Compliance (dir by Craig Zobel)


(Minor Spoilers Below)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the most disturbing films of 2012, Compliance.

Compliance opens with the dowdy and middle-aged Sandra (Ann Dowd) arriving at the fast food restaurant that she manages.  Sandra, at first glance, seems to be a rather forgettable and conventional, the type of person who we see every day but don’t give much thought to.  It’s only when Sandra gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer that we start to see the disturbing reality underneath Sandra’s perfect facade.

The man tells Sandra that one of her employees may have stolen money from a customer’s purse.  He asks Sandra to detain the employee until the police arrive.  Based on a vague description given by the man, Sandra decides that the employee in question must be Becky (Dreama Walker), a cashier who Sandra earlier had some conflict with.

Sandra calls Becky into her office and confronts her with the man’s accusations.  When Becky denies them, the man tells Sandra to strip search Becky.  Though she is initially hesitant, Sandra does perform the search and finds nothing.

However, the man isn’t finished humiliating Becky.  As the man’s instructions grow more extreme and bizarre, Sandra soon starts to recruit others to help her keep Becky under watch.

Compliance is a portrait of both abusive authority and petty sadism.  Dreama Walker is sympathetic as Becky while Ann Dowd turns Sandra into a frighteningly plausible monster.  And, make no doubt about it, Sandra is a monster.  The prank call simply gives Sandra an excuse to unleash all the resentment that she feels towards the younger and prettier Becky and it leads to a very interesting dynamic in which both the caller and Sandra become allies in a conspiracy to humiliate and, ultimately, dehumanize Becky.  Throughout the film, the caller’s claims grow more and more flamboyant and we, as an audience, are forced to decide whether Sandra is genuinely fooled or if she’s just using the call as an excuse to justify acting on her own resentments.

What makes Compliance especially disturbing is that the film itself is based on a true story.  Most film usually use the term “based on a true story” quite loosely but Compliance sticks very closely to the facts of something that happened in a McDonald’s in 2004.  Just like in the film, a man pretending to be a police officer called the McDonald’s and told the manager that one of the cashiers was suspected of being a thief.  Just as in the film, the caller ordered the cashier to be stripped naked and eventually ordered the manager’s fiancée to sexually assault the cashier.

When that incident made national news, I know that a lot of people (like me) reacted by wondering how the manager could have been so stupid and making a few jokes about the type of people who make a career out of fast food.  As a society, we tend to assume that incidents like this are somehow not the norm.

However, as Compliance demonstrates, there was more to this incident than just stupidity.  We are continually told that we have to automatically respect and obey anybody who presents himself as being an authority figure, whether it’s the uniformed cop who responds to any hint of dissent with either his taser or his gun or just some unseen guy on the phone who claims to be an officer of the law.  We’re continually told not to question men in authority, instead we’re simply to assume that anything they say is both important and correct.  As Compliance demonstrates, sadists like Sandra are not as unusual as we like to assume.  They’re just doing what they’ve been bred to do.

They’re following orders and respecting authority.

They’re maintaining compliance.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown

The National Board of Review Honors Zero Dark Thirty


Oscar season continues!  Just a few hours ago, the National Board of Review announced their picks for the best of 2012.  Like the New York Film Critics Circle, the NBR named Zero Dark Thirty the best film of 2012 and Kathryn Bigelow best director.

I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty so I can’t judge whether it’s truly a great film or not.  However, to be perfectly honest, I sincerely hope that it doesn’t win every single critics’ award out there because, seriously, that would be sooooooooooo boring!  I mean, I know that all of you establishment film critics love to jump on the bandwagon but seriously, variety is the spice of life!

As much as I wish that the NBR had kept things interesting by choosing some out-of-nowhere pick for best picture, I am happy to see that they honored Bradley Cooper for his excellent work in Silver Linings Playbook.

Along with naming Zero Dark Thirty as best picture, the NBR also listed the 9 runner-ups.  It’s interesting to note that The Dark Knight Rises does not appear anywhere on that list.

On a personal note, I’ll be posting my own picks for the best of 2012 during the first week of January and, trust me, my picks are going to be a lot more interesting than anything you’re going to get from the National Board of Review.

BEST PICTURE
“Zero Dark Thirty”

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathryn Bigelow (“”Zero Dark Thirty””)

BEST ACTOR
Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Django Unchained”)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Ann Dowd (“Compliance”)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Rian Johnson (“Looper”)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

BEST ENSEMBLE
“Les Miserables”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“Wreck-It-Ralph”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 
“Amour”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Searching for Sugar Man”

SPOTLIGHT AWARD
John Goodman

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCES
Tom Holland (“The Impossible”)
Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

DEBUT DIRECTOR
Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT 
Ben Affleck (“Argo”)

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
“Central Park Five”
“Promised Land”

 

 

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Argo”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
“Django Unchained”
“Les Miserables”
“Lincoln”
“Looper”
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
“Promised Land”
“Silver Linings Playbook”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Barbara”
“The Intouchables”
“The Kid with a Bike”
“No”
“War Witch”

BEST DOCUMENTARY NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Al Weiwei”
“Detropia”
“The Gatekeepers”
“The Invisible War”
“Only the Young”

BEST INDEPENDENT FILMS (alphabetical)
“Arbitrage”
“Bernie”
“Compliance”
“End of Watch”
“Hello, I Must Be Going”
“Little Birds”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“On the Road”
“Quartet”
“Sleepwalk with Me”

And here are The Independent Spirit Nominations


The Gotham Awards aren’t the only awards regularly given to films that the majority of filmgoers will never get to see.  The Independent Spirit Nominations are also dedicated to recognizing the best of independent film and they tend to get a bit more attention than the Gothams.  With the early Oscar talk being dominated by mainstream studio films like Argo, Lincoln and Les Miserables, indie films like Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom are going to need all of the help that they can get.

BEST PICTURE

Bernie

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Keep The Lights On

Moonrise Kingdom

Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom

Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks

Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

BEST FIRST FEATURE

Fill the Void

Gimme the Loot

Safety Not Guaranteed

Sound of My Voice

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void

Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed

Christopher Ford, Robot & Frank

Rashida Jones & Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever

Jonathan Lisecki, Gayby

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – (for features under $500,000)

Breakfast with Curtis

Middle of Nowhere

Mosquita y Mari

Starlet

The Color Wheel

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Linda Cardellini, Return

Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed

BEST MALE LEAD

Jack Black, Bernie

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On

Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

Wendell Pierce, Four

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister

Ann Dowd, Compliance

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice

Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere

Michael Péna, End of Watch

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths

Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Yoni Brook, Valley of Saints

Lol Crawley, Here

Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Roman Vasyanov, End of Watch

Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom

BEST DOCUMENTARY

How to Survive a Plague

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present

The Central Park Five

The Invisible War

The Waiting Room

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

Amour (France)

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Turkey)

Rust And Bone (France/Belgium)

Sister (Switzerland)

War Witch (Democratic Republic of Congo)

PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD

Nobody Walks, Alicia Van Couvering

Prince Avalanche, Derrick Tseng

Stones in the Sun, Mynette Louie

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD

Pincus, director David Fenster

Gimme the Loot, director Adam Leon

Electrick Children, director Rebecca Thomas

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (given to emerging documentary filmmaker)

Leviathan, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

The Waiting Room, director Peter Nicks

Only the Young, directors Jason Tippet & Elizabeth Mims

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (for ensemble cast)

Starlet Director: Sean Baker Casting Director: Julia Kim Cast: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Karren Karagulian, Stella Maeve, James Ransone