I am a cop. You are not, and I’ve just ordered you to do something distasteful. Will you do it? You might say, “Of course not” — but there are scientific studies proving that, more likely than not, you will.
That’s the moral dilemma faced by several characters in Compliance, writer-director Craig Zobel’s squirm-inducing drama based on a series of real-life telephone hoaxes perpetrated in the early 2000s. On paper (see sidebar below), what happened to employees of a rural McDonald’s outlet stretches credulity. It’s to Zobel’s credit that, after watching his dramatization of the incident, the behavior of several unfortunate fast-food workers doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
A summary: A man calls the restaurant and, claiming to be a police officer, asks to speak to the manager. The “cop” informs her that one of her employees is accused of stealing from a customer. Police, this man says, are at the moment short-handed, and would the manger mind helping them out? Would she please begin by strip-searching the female employee?
Ridiculous, you say. Even should the manager acquiesce to this absurd request, certainly the young girl would have none of it. Ah, but you are not an 18-year-old girl from the sticks of Kentucky (Ohio in the movie), needful of your job, intimidated by police, and conditioned — as most of us are — to respect authority. The stressed-out manager succumbs, the fearful girl succumbs and, once the manager’s middle-aged fiancé enters the picture, a relatively harmless prank escalates to sexual assault.
I have no idea how true-to-life the proceedings are in Compliance, but Zobel’s step-by-step direction and some superb acting by Ann Dowd, as the manager, make the outrageous seem plausible. That is, plausible until the sex assault. The motivations of both parties to that event are … curious, at least to me.
Zobel claims that his film is a composite of scores of similar telephone hoaxes that plagued the Midwest 10 years ago, but the plot of Compliance adheres closely to the recorded facts of the Kentucky incident. Not so the ending, in which it’s implied that the bad guy gets caught. In reality, the primary suspect in the hoax was acquitted of all charges. Grade: B+
Director: Craig Zobel Cast: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger, James McCaffrey, Matt Servitto, Ashlie Atkinson Release: 2012
Watch the Trailer (click here)
Above: Ogborn and Nix during the assault, from security video.
Never mind those stories you hear about “stranger danger” on the Internet; one of the most successful scams of the early 2000s involved nothing more than that relic of low-tech communication, the humble telephone.
On April 9, 2004, someone claiming to be a police officer called McDonald’s assistant manager Donna Summers. Using a combination of guile and homework (the caller knew the actual name of Summers’s regional manager), the fake cop spun a tale of customer theft and asked Summers to strip search employee Louise Ogborn, who was then 18. Later (the incident went on for several hours), Summers’s fiancé, Walter Nix, continued to follow “officer Scott’s” instructions — including a spanking of the naked girl and the coercion of oral sex from her. Eventually, employees grew suspicious and contacted the real police.
Nix went to prison and Ogborn successfully sued McDonald’s. But “officer Scott” was never found. Said a (genuine) police detective assigned to the case: “There was a lot of things, in my mind, that I think they [Summers and Nix] could have done — and I don’t understand why they didn’t do them.”
Above: Nix, at left, and Ogborn leaving court.
Below, part of the actual security video:
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