Friday, 22 March 2013

Compliance (15)

The problem with "based on real events" movies is that, in reacting to what you're seeing on screen, are you not reacting to what actually happened out there in the real world?

Are you actually able to react to the film version without commenting, by implication, on what actually went down?

With documentaries - like Gasland, for example - you're responding to facts; proven data. With fiction, you're simply bimbling along with the story, if you don't like how it's written it's not like you're judging people's lives and actions.

Which is a real problem with Compliance.

By being unmoved, and at times inherently annoyed by what's happening, am I in some way trivialising what actually happened? Am I, in some way, adding insulting to clear injury by having a voice in my head screaming THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN?

Because it did.

It's just the fictionalising (what do you mean that's not a word?) of what would clearly have been harrowing events actually seems to trivialise what went on.

For those of you wondering what I'm banging on about, here's the story: Man pretends to be cop, phones fast food restaurant and tells the manager a member of staff has stolen money from a customer. She believes him, identifies the member of staff as Becky (Dreama Walker - star of Gran Torino and, er, Gossip Girl) and promptly sets about following his instructions as she strip searches Becky, taking her clothes and keeping her in an office til the police arrive (which they don't, obviously).

All of this actually happened.

From here, other members of staff are roped in to add to Becky's humiliation by following more instructions. All except one, Kevin (Philip Ettinger), who has the wit to say it shouldn't be happening.
When she runs out of staff, manageress Sandra (Ann Dowd, who won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress for this. No, not heard of it either, but she did so there you go) calls in her soon-to-be fiance to watch over Becky.

Again, this all happened.

Here things get worse, as he follows all instructions to the letter.

Again, all happened.

Finally, the maintenance guy is roped in, smells a rat, blows the whistle, and the truth is uncovered, perpetrator is arrested, law suits fly, the end.

Again, just to labour the point, this all happened.

Which is where the problems begin.

With her portrayal of Sandra, Dowd does a bang up job of making you believe she would just blindly follow instructions and not ask the obvious questions.

As her fiance Van, Bill Camp captures a man conflicted, following the voice of authority but knowing what he's doing is wrong (the real-life version served five years for his actions).

The problems with Compliance lie in two key areas.

As Becky, Walker doesn't seem to be having that hard a time of it. I'd imagine her real-life counterpart was wailing and screaming from the off (and she reportedly suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, quite understandably), but Walker seems to be resigned to this being one of those things, just another shit day at work where The Man is sticking it to her. Even at her most violated, something just doesn't gel, doesn't ring true.

Which brings us to the other problem - tonally, Compliance is all over the shop.

It starts out wanting to be a quirky, indie-flick, all odd shots and framings and use of incidental music - and banging BASED ON REAL EVENTS on the screen, in caps, which just serves to cheapen and trvilaise the story again - but then attempts to be a chilling thriller as Becky's life is put through the wringer. And it doesn't do either well. And it fails to make the most of the main character.

Becky should be the focus here. It's her life being ruined, her body being used as another man's plaything, but that's not what you take from this. This is actually Sandra's story. How her day was turned upside down by the prank call, how her fiance did a bad thing.

A point rammed home at the end of the film. And this is wrong.

You should be watching this feeling shame for those who didn't do more, you should be angry at one man's idea of fun, you should at least have a clue as to why he's doing this, but none of that happens.
Instead the whole thing just serves to annoy.

Especially at the end.

Oh, actually there's a third thing - the dialogue has clearly been written by someone who doesn't actually listen to how people talk. Which, again, takes off any edge this film thought it might have.

Basing this film on real events isn't enough, and by labouring that point writer/director Craig Zobel has cheapened what was, in essence, a horrible crime. His villain (Pat Healy) isn't nearly evil enough or seemingly motivated to carry out this crime, he frankly seems bored (the real-life guy had an apparent fantasy of being a cop, something only hinted at here).

And telling us how many times this crime was carried out, without telling us what actually happened to the real-life scammer (the man who was arrested was not convicted), only serves to add to the feeling that this film was made with less than honourable intentions.

The real story deserves to be told properly, not turned into an unthrilling thriller that would embarrass most first year film students.

No comments:

Post a Comment