According to a study conducted by The Conference Board and released in late June, more than half – 53% – of Americans claim to be unhappy with their jobs. But anyone who complains about having a bad day at work should look no further than the new movie Compliance to see what a horrible, psychologically damaging, torturous day at work can be. And it’s based on a true story.
Written and directed by Craig Zobel, Compliance stars Dreama Walker (June on ABC’s “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23″) as Becky, a seemingly happy 18-year-old working at a fastfood restaurant. Her Friday night shift quickly takes a turn for the worse when a police officer calls the restaurant to speak with the manager, Sandra, played by Ann Dowd. Claiming Becky has stolen money from a customer’s purse, Officer Daniels asks Sandra to sequester Becky in the office.
What ensues is appalling, not just in actions but also in the fact that the ordeal is based on actual events that continued for more than two hours and nobody seriously questions the caller…no actual police officer ever shows up on the premises to question or search the suspect. For her part, Walker begins Becky’s journey defiant, adamant that she stole nothing, then reluctantly giving into the police officer’s request for a strip search, and eventually defeated.
“I’ve [called it] resigned,” Walker explains. ”Your emotions just kind of leave your body – your brain leaves your body – because it’s just too much for everything to handle and you go into shock.”
Shocking for the character and the audience as Becky is subjected to actions that Walker admits required some compliance on her part.
“Craig and I had many conversations about how things were going to be filmed,” she explains. ”Craig’s biggest thing was that he wanted [the nudity] to be more artistic rather than gratuitous and nothing for too long, more things implied rather than actually showing the act.”
“My husband was watching [the movie with me at home], and I could see his whole body trying to get out of the room, but his eyes never the screen,” Dowd says of the movie’s riveting plot. ”You’re thinking, ‘this can’t be true,’ but it’s impossible not to follow it to its end.”
Dowd’s Sandra is a likable woman, a restaurant manager with the best intentions of running the store well while also trying to connect with her employees. But on this particular Friday night, Sandra is under more pressure than usual. The KFC-type restaurant, ChickWich, is short an employee or two, they are out of pickles (a very important condiment for the simply-dressed sandwiches), and Sandra arrived at work that day to discover a large portion of the chicken spoiled because a refrigerator door didn’t get completely closed the night before. Worried the regional manager will be upset, Sandra has also received word that a mystery shopper will be making a trip to their store that night, so cleanliness, service and food quality are of the utmost importance to avoid a bad review. But those problems, of course, pale in comparison to what transpires.
“When I first read the script…I bought her completely and what happened there,” Dowd says. ”I could see and I could feel, even more frightening, how it could happen. It made sense to me and I had tremendous sympathy for her.”
On the other hand, audiences will have very little sympathy for the man on the other end of the phone. Pat Healy gives life to the “officer” in the most compelling ways.
“I’ve worked as a tele-marketer,” Healy says of his day in college, “and I have this same sick feeling doing that, selling magazines, that I did playing this part, quite honestly, because you’re manipulating people and you’re trying to give them something they don’t want or need. And they want to say ‘no’ but you’re encouraged to keep them on the line and make them spend the money.”
Dowd, Walker and Healy have been praised for the performances sinceCompliance debuted at Sundance in January. And already, their names are popping up on lists as potential awards contenders.
“It’s so thrilling, the whole thing,” Dowd says. “It’s been pretty extraordinary just to work on a film of that caliber – the script and those people.”
The Seven Sees sat down with Walker and Healy to discuss the true story behind the movie’s shocking plot.
Compliance opens in New York on Friday, August 17th, Los Angeles on Friday, August 24th, with more cities to follow. The movie runs 90 minutes and is rated R for language and sexual content/nudity.