Reality  (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir: Tina Satter, 2023, 82 mins

Cast:  Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis

Review by Carol Allen

This is not a documentary but it is a film taken directly from life. 

One Saturday afternoon in June 2017, 25-year-old Reality Winner was interrogated in her Georgia home by two members of the FBI, on suspicion that, while working as an intelligence contractor, she had deliberately leaked a classified document about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.  Making her the first whistle-blower in the Trump era.

The dialogue is all taken directly from the transcript of that interview.  Not a word written by the film’s writer.  And it is riveting stuff, brilliantly dramatized. 

Writer/director Tina Satter, who found the transcript via a link from a news story, saw its dramatic potential and first mounted it as a play in New York.  The dialogue in the film, as in the play, is verbatim, down to every pause and cough, and has been effectively realized in cinematic action  

Reality, played by Sydney Sweeney, is small and vulnerable in appearance – and from the one glimpse we get of the real Reality at one point, that casting seems physically  accurate.  She is though pretty feisty, at least initially, as she fields the questions from the two FBI agents who have invaded her home.  At first the agents (Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis) are gently polite, yet still really scary. You sense these are highly trained operatives who really know their job.   And as time goes on, the tension mounts as they get tougher in their questioning.

The heavy handed behaviour of their support team, as they riff brutally through Reality’s  personal possessions, tape off her house, labelling it a  “crime scene” and particularly their caging of her dog and leashing of her cat – bullying and intimidating behaviour, all of which happened in real life – put  us firmly on her side.  

Her  crime appears, certainly to us Brits, who don’t understand the US security system, but a small misdemeanor, not a major crime.   She released a piece of information which should arguably have been in the public domain anyway, about Russia interfering with the US Election.   As a result the behaviour of the security services, acting in the name of President Trump. comes over as a despotic over reaction and a disturbing insight into the American way of doing things.   So emotionally we’re on Reality’s side.   Her unusual name also gives the title an ironic double entendre.

This film has more pace and tension than most fictional thrillers, plus the alarming fact that this actually happened, literally word for word.  Unusual and very impressive.