Film Review: Compliance


Compliance is just about one of the most abhorrent films I’ve ever seen.

In 2007, there were 70 exceptional cases were reported across to the American Police department. While they all had their own, unsettling idiosyncrasies, they were all loosely connected by subterfuge and prank calls. This is no Steve Penk or The Jerky Boys, but real vile cases of human maltreatment.

It’s an extraordinary topic that is crying out to be debunked in an explorative, Errol Morris style documentary. Compliance isn’t that film.

Writer/director Craig Zobel decides to focus this seeming pandemic on one exceptional example, based on a mélange of different real cases to make one mega-horrific fictional one. It’s just another regular day at an Ohio fast food chain, until a meticulous prank caller convinces the restaurant manager (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees Becky, Gossip Girl‘s Dreama Walker, is being accused of stealing from a customer. What proceeds is a manipulating interrogation, where everyone idly agrees to whatever increasingly insane task the caller will have them do. Why? Without proving any of his credentials, the prank caller deceives everyone involved into believing that he is a police officer, and thus establishing his unobjectionable authority. By Compliance‘s nasty end, Becky is naked, humiliated, and sexually violated, and the audience are accomplices; watching on through guarded eyes and clenched fists.

Even though the story comes from a bastardised real place, Zobel really pushes the boundaries of plausibility. Not in a “stranger than fiction” way, but rather because the characterisation, narrative, and Zobel’s misguided compulsion to tell it, is shallow. The ninety minute running time lingers for what feels like days and, whilst the repetitious sequences are relatively tame and implicit, it all feels incredibly ugly and exploitative; as if Zobel is forcing the audience to watch a security camera.

At it’s most tenuous, one could wring-out a slapdash argument that the film is forcing the audience to look at this injustice like a reflexive meta-narrative, like Haneke’s Funny Games. Unlike the unflinchingly austere Austrian, Zobel lacks directorial flare and balls to actually critique or comment on the true events and populace servility to the law.

Even when the film was snapped up at the Sundance Film Festival last year, it was met with notoriety, with walkouts and boos. Later, in a public Q&A, Zobel plainly admitted that the film is misogynistic. But for what reason? Zobel is trying to be forthright and polemical with Compliance, but simply projecting these images isn’t enough to warrant a political license. An artless, meaningless, pseudo-video nasty that doesn’t earn the discomfort it will leave you with.

☆☆☆☆☆ (0 stars)

PODCAST: The Oscars’ Special

Fellow film lovers, we have reached that time of the year once again where you polish off our once-rented, then stained, then force-bought tux, slap on some cheap perfume, and try your darndest to break in to the prodigious Academy Awards ceremony. Or, if like me, Jessica Chastain isn’t returning your calls, maybe you’ll just watch from home. Either way, The Frame Loop has got you covered, with our very special Oscar podcast!

Join The Frame Loop’s co-editor Luke Richardson as he predicts who will be going home on Sunday with a 14″ little golden fella tucked nicely underarm. From bookies’ dead-cert bets, to outsider choices, and who we think really deserves the much coveted gongs.

Don’t forget to follow our coverage of the Oscars and a plethora of other cultural things at

Thanks for listening, and thanks to the academy.

#276: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

It’s hardly surprising that The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, in Spanish) beat Michael Haneke’s critically applauded The White Ribbon to the Best Foreign Film oscar back in 2009. Produced by Argentina’s biggest production company, it’s an expansive, articulate, and above all things, broad picture. A mixture of yearning romance, film noir mystery and worthy satire of government corruption (hint, hint it’s set two years before Argentina’s notorious ‘Dirty War’), there is certainly something here for everyone to enjoy during the long, 130 minute running time.

Coming from a background directing episodes of American series such as House and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, director and co-writer Juan José Campanella never shortchanges the various meaty subplots nor moods he creates.

A film of subtle, literary intelligence, the various stories are all linked by one pair of eyes – those of a young schoolteacher, raped and murdered in a Buenos Aires apartment in 1974. This brutal crime haunts the film’s protagonist, Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín), a legal investigator at one of the city’s criminal courts. Twenty-five years later, and now retired, he is attempting to write a novel based on the case that has haunted him ever since

The narrative unfurls between the grey haired Espósito in the present day, mixed with going back and forth between past and present, memory and conjecture. Reliving the story for his writing, and thankfully for the audience, the aftermath of the crime is explored. There’s the corrupt battle between Espósito and the criminal policy makers of Argentina and his tempestuous alcoholic partner, the capture of chief murder suspect Isidoro Gómez (Javier Gordino), the dead woman’s forlorn, justice-seeking husband Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) and the thwarted love between the earthy Espósito and his educated employer Irene (Soledad Villamil). All the characters echo each other, illustrating the different aspects of love and loss, redemption and justice.

Most of its’ mystery moments are contained in police department offices, but the film’s loudest and most visceral scene involving a police manhunt in a packed football stadium leaves you thrilled and exasperated. Going from claustrophobic handheld camera there to the expansive, surrealistic imagery the next, Félix Monti’s superb cinematography is as divergent and schizoid as the beats of Campanella’s tale, with the stringed score from Federico Jusid and Emilio Kauderer being just as frenzied as an Ennio Morricone off-cut.

Although the flashback/forward structure is a tad gratuitous, The Secret in Their Eyes manages to draw you into the time shift. Irregularly for me, I wanted less mystery chills and more of the blossoming romance between Espósito and Irene. A melodramatic, ‘lady and the tramp’ story thread, actors Darín and Villamil share a remarkable chemistry which helps turn the film turn from a grim, David Fincher Seven-like throwback into an evocative powerhouse.

The Secret in Their Eyes shows a great talent in Campanella. Deserving of his shiny gold man, he is a filmmaker well-worth keeping an eye on.

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