Compliance ***½/4 – a movie review by James Berardinelli

January 17, 2013 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Most of the time, I am irritated when a movie proclaims to be “based on a true story”…writes James Berardinelli.

In many cases, it’s a gratuitous marketing ploy. For Compliance, however, it’s useful information. Unlike many “based on true stories,” this one closely follows the established record. More importantly, without such a disclaimer, the viewer would be inclined toward eye-rolling. The truth can indeed be stranger than fiction and, in this case, were the story to have originated in the imagination of the screenwriter, it could rightfully be criticized as artificial and contrived. But, disturbing and unlikely as it may be, this stuff actually happened, and pretty much as Craig Zobel relates it.

The real-life events occurred in 2004 in Mount Washington, Kentucky. The names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent). No date is offered for Compliance, but the location in somewhere in Ohio. The restaurant in which events transpire is the fictitious Chickenwich (standing in for McDonald’s, presumably to avoid legal action). Other than that, the story unfolds like a docudrama. In fact, if you peruse the Wikipedia entry for the incident, it reads like an outline of the script. What Compliance provides that factual accounts ignore is the “human element.” It explores the gray line between victim and perpetrator. (There is only one “pure victim” and one “pure criminal” in the story.) It also explains how people could allow things to go this far and get so out-of-hand.

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