A stressed-out fast-food manager, a cashier, and an investigating officer mostly fill out this unsettling drama from an everyday setting that curiously touches on aspects of human nature.
Compliance stars Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, and Pat Healy, and writer/director Craig Zobel has a way with the material (cobbled together from an actual 2004 incident) to push an audience to the limit, sort of like what the Dowd and Walker characters are going through during long stretches. Or more importantly, eliciting responses to the choices made by Dowd's Sandra and Walker's Becky.
Not to say, from a critical standpoint, that the narrative can really sustain itself from weak passages or its tempering in ways that place authority to the middle-aged, suspicious Sandra when Becky comes under criminal scrutiny when the former isn't feeling that great about her staff at Chick-Wich right now.
It is in Pat Healy's Officer Daniels that calibrates a psychological intensity to somewhat maddening effect from an effective brand of negative and positive reinforcement. Its twisted subterfuge in an unusual handling of lawful matters has a compelling interpersonal insight to it, especially in a series of verbal exchanges aimed apparently for maximum discomfort.
The characters, notably Becky and Sandra, are pretty well drawn, and Walker (Gran Torino) and veteran character actor Dowd (The Art of Getting By) are able to be consistently engaging; their actions in complying with someone like Daniels fashions a certain riveting ordeal, interpretatively maddening but justified fromt the law presented to them.
You may not be inclined to accept what Zobel presents as being unfathomable and misogynistic from a structure where frugality reigns to hit humanistic discord. If the lensing and soundtrack promote pretentiousness, being around diners oblivious to what is happening to a very nearby Becky, an interlocking Compliance still has a tight, often provocative grip on those who may not be so calm afterwards.