Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Compliance

Dir. Craig Zobel
Country: USA
Running Time: 90mins
Aus Rating: N/A

Perhaps a better title for Craig Zobel’s sophomore effort – I have not seen his debut feature, Great World of Sound – would have been “It’s Complicated”. Oh sure, that title was already taken by a self-consciously zany romantic comedy with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin from several years back, but if ever those two words, made (in)famous in recent years by one of Facebook’s stranger attention seeking quirks, were applicable to a movie then it’s this one. Or, hey, what about “Stranger Than Fiction”? Will Ferrell doesn’t have a monopoly on that expression, surely. I struggled to string a few words together after watching Zobel’s noble, if inherently flawed, thriller, and still sometime after I am unsure as to how to write about it. I’m winging it here, folks. I mean, I know I didn’t enjoy watching the film, but one must assume that was the point.

Essentially a home invasion film of the Funny Games variety, but rather than a wealthy middle class family in their exquisite summer vacation home it’s a group of underclass fast food restaurant employees who are used as pawns in a progressively repugnant game of (dim) wits with a disembodied figure who places human life a little bit below that of a cockroach. These people and their actions amidst the increasingly mystifying situation that they find themselves in appear as much of a Hollywood fantasy as it does a segment on a fake Dateline spoof from Saturday Night Live. I didn’t care for Funny Games either, but at least that one utilised narrative, built genuine tension and was a vision of a filmmaker with a distinct message. It’s characters were bound by logic and physical threat, whereas here they have seemingly shot themselves so far beyond the realm of the believable and landed headfirst into farce territory. Yes, these events really happened, but many audience members will spend more time tearing their hair out at the ridiculous actions of its characters than they will engaging in its potential themes.

Potential themes, might I add, that may or may not even be present. On one hand it is a glaring look at the public’s subservience to as well as a blind belief in the possibility of extreme law enforcement. On another hand, it’s a humorless look at lower-middle class America that enforces the perceived red state mentality of the hick stereotype. That the film is all too vague in proclaiming what it is or, even, what it wants to be, or what it ever had an intention of being is one of the reasons why it doesn’t truly work. It’s too little of anything in particular and placing grand ideas upon its flimsy frame doesn’t help anybody. Even more worrying, however, is the thought that Zobel isn’t trying to say anything at all. This is a rather straight forward film and if its that hard to find a solid reading of it then something’s been lost in translation.

It’s easy to why Compliance has caused such a fuss – it’s truly maddening. Within minutes my eyebrow was raised by its alarming concept, but I rapidly grew frustrated. The matter of fact presentation of events only enforces a wandering mind – especially for somebody who has spent time working in retail – as there’s little to really grab a hold of, not to mention a lack of filmmaking flare. The actors pick up the slack for the most part, and Ann Dowd is a particular standout as the restaurant’s manager and principal punked dunce. I was intrigued by Dreama Walker’s presence, always hoping her character was withholding more than her naked body would imply, but that doesn’t appear to have been the intention of the filmmaker. A coda implies some really prickly plays on ethics and morals, but the credits role as quickly as Dowd’s deluded managerial figure begins to see the chips appear in her play innocent varnish. Much the like the film itself, there’s obviously more to Dowd’s character, but the film isn’t willing to investigate it. C-

1 comment:

TonyFilangeri said...

Ugh. Saw this at my local film festival. Awful movie.