Judge Clark Douglas will offer you his sinister services in exchange for cheese.
Our review of Compulsion (1959), published July 12th, 2006, is also available.
A dark story of desire and lust.
"Don't say that."
Facts of the Case
Anjika Indrani (Parminder Nagra, Bend it Like Beckham) is the young daughter of a wealthy British-Indian businessman (Bhasker Patel, Thunderbirds). She has a boyfriend named Alex (Ben Aldridge), but the relationship is regarded by her parents as a triviality. Being traditional Indian parents, they want an arranged marriage for their daughter, and have just informed her that she will be marrying an ambitious young businessman named Jaiman (James Floyd). Anjijka doesn't actively dislike Jaiman, but she's entirely against the idea of marrying him. Unwilling to break ties with her family by simply saying "no," Anjika makes a shady deal with Don Flowers (Ray Winstone, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), the family chauffeur.
Flowers claims that he can take care of the situation; that he'll find a way to sully Jaiman's sterling reputation and thus force Anjika's parents to cancel the arranged marriage. However, in return for this favor he's requested that Anjika spend a single night with him at a nearby hotel. Anjika accepts, setting off an ominous chain of events with unforeseen consequences.
Compulsion is a film that has to work on two different levels. It purports to be both a loose adaptation of Thomas Middleton's Jacobean 1622 play The Changeling and an exploration of relationship complications of the modern era created by two different generations with very different life philosophies. While it does a respectable job in the former category, it ultimately proves problematic in the latter.
The film walks a fine line of remaining relatively faithful to its very old source material while still working on its own terms for the first hour or so, in which a great deal of events are put into motion and some surprising discoveries are made. What's particularly interesting is the way our sympathies lie with Anjika far longer than they probably ought to. When the film begins, she is an entirely sympathetic figure: a strong, intelligent woman trapped by her adherence to the her family's culture. We understand why she feels such a desperate need to escape, and her willingness to trade sexual favors to her chauffeur seems an intensely sad way of gaining freedom. Only after she's made her diabolical deal do we realize that she's heartlessly destroyed the life of an innocent, well-meaning young man.
The Don Flowers character is the most intriguing. As played by Winstone, he is an enigmatic figure who serves every family member loyally in equal measure. He is an unwaveringly reliable driver for Anjika's father and a drug-dealer for her brother. His dark request of Anjika is made in a such a matter-of-fact manner that we can't quite spot his motivation. Anjika asks him, "Are you wanting to @$%#! me or $@%! my father?" "Does it matter?" Flower replies. Not until the film's final moments are we certain of his motivations. It's an effectively atypical performance for Winstone, playing a character far more emotionally reserved than many of the figures he has portrayed.
For the most part, the tale will be easy to predict even for those completely unfamiliar with the source material. Only one small strand proves surprising: though Anjika loathes Flowers for requesting sex rather than money in exchange for his services, her reaction to their night of lovemaking is not one of disgust. Repulsive as he may be, Flowers seems to know what he's doing under the sheets, particularly in contrast to Anjika's friendly but inexperienced boyfriend. Their one night turns into another, and another, and another, until Anjika has lost all certainty of what she wants in life.
As I said, I found the film an involving tale of interesting people with complicated feelings for quite a while, but as Compulsion enters its last act, it slips into awkward melodrama. The stakes get higher, the actions get more extreme and suddenly it feels as if everyone is being pushed by The Changeling rather than by their own emotions. The actors do a good job of remaining persuasive through all of this, but they can't prevent the plot from feeling contrived and forced.
The DVD transfer is solid, with the intentionally semi-soft image sporting respectable depth and detail. The audio is strong, but it's worth noting that this disc is really loud across the board. I had to bring the audio down considerably from its usual level. Otherwise, it's a solid, low-key mix. There are no extras of any sort on the disc.
It would be a tad harsh to call to call Compulsion an interesting failure, but I can't quite label it a success, either. Let's just leave it an "interesting" and recommend that those with a particular interest in Winstone, the source material or Indian culture give it a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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