Reality is a limited-space thriller that is an intoxicating piece of true-story drama.
Published on June 7, 2023
Rating 4 /5
In 2017, Reality Winner was a woman who had enough of the government she had been serving for so long. Feeling devalued and watching the country crumble under the corruption of then-President Donald Trump, she decided to swipe a file on Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, leaking it to the publication The Intercept. The FBI found out about her and cornered her in her home, where she was interrogated. This recorded interaction was soon adapted into the stage play Is This A Room by Tina Satter, who now transitions that story to film.
This is a stellar drama for how it dips in and out of the recording, occasionally censoring its redacted elements creepily. Sydney Sweeney does an incredible job portraying the uneasiness and frustrations of Reality, posing her as a woman who can sense her time is up and slowly comes to that realization as her lies unravel. The pursuing FBI agents, played by Marchánt Davis and Josh Hamilton, try to de-escalate the situation calmly while pushing for Reality to spill the beans on what they already know. The way this all goes down, mostly within an empty room at Reality’s house, is tense and gripping with every divulgence of info and the breakdown of admittance.
The film maintains its intensity through the stellar acting and Tina Satter’s remarkable direction. When handling the camera, she gets the frame in close for the interrogation moments, creating an uncomfortable feeling as the shot probes closer with every cut. The claustrophobic setting is brilliantly staged with the expansive nature of the room, the clinical look of its white walls, and the intimidating mood of being forced into a box. There doesn’t feel like there’s any fluff or major liberties taken with this material, especially with how the film cuts between the recorded transcript and actual news footage.
The majority of the film locks us into the interrogation process and trying to figure out the mindset of Reality. There’s no greater divulgence on the nature of the 2016 election being interfered with by Russians. The type of rhetoric and smearing by mass media and corrupted politicians to frame Reality as a traitor becomes more of an epilogue told entirely from news clips. The focus on the emotional drive for Reality to risk her freedom as a whistleblower is the real meat of this true story. The FBI agents constantly stress that they don’t think of Reality as someone who would be a whistleblower, but that’s exactly what she is. When the world gets worse, the least likely people will become desperate and turn against hierarchies.
Reality is a limited-space thriller that is an intoxicating piece of true-story drama. The acting and editing kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. There was never a dull moment in this brilliant dose of stage drama that made a fantastic jump into a film. The final shots of the film that stress how Reality faced a harsh punishment for her whistleblowing, which she has yet to finish, make a strong case for how little protection there is for those becoming whistleblowers. At the same time, this film also stresses the need for it and why it may be a necessity for some in the future.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.