Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Compliance": a controversial enactment of a phone scam directed at a fast food business

Compliance” (2011, directed by Craig Zobel) is a dramatic enactment of a telephone prank carried out against a fast food establishment, reported to have happened over seventy times.

The film is set in Ohio, but the closest actual incident was the Bullitt County McDonald’s Case in Mount Washington , Kentucky in 2004.

The manager-owner of a fried chicken franchise receives a landline call from a man purporting to be a police officer and saying that a female employee who works there stole money from a customer’s purse.  The owner is gradually coerced into detaining the employee, doing a strip search and getting male employees to participate.  In the film, she doesn’t find out that this is a prank until her regional manager calls back late. 
Ann Dowd plays Sandra, the business owner, and Dreama Walker plays the accused young female employee.  A rather likeable young male worker Kevin (Philip Ettinger) balks, but Ann’s own fiancé Van (Bill Camp) brings it to a head, literally (with some explicit fetishism), before the janitor catches on, leading to the phone call with the manager and then the real police.
I found myself really irritated by the gullibility of most of the characters, and by how easily the caller (Pat Healy, not shown until the middle of the movie) manipulates them.  I found it hard to believe, despite the reports that this is a common occurrence with low-income workers and owners in more rural locations. 
The best parts of the film were the beginning, where we get a real-life look at what life is like in the fast-food business, for both management and employees.  It’s not fun. It’s a test of whether you can work at all, with Maoist implications.  Barbara Ehrenreich dealt with all this in her 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed” and the material certainly fits into the minimum wage debate.
At the end, the film goes into docudrama mode, and walks us through the legal consequences. Sandra’s life is ruined.
There are reports that people walked out of the Sundance screening and shouted at the QA.
The official site from Magnolia is here

There are many “reviews” of the movie on YouTube, and the tone of the film has generated a lot of emotion.  

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