Anchored by a remarkable performance from Sydney Sweeney, Reality reconstructs the interrogation and arrest of American whistleblower Reality Winner in real-time, to disturbing, pulse-pounding effect.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Sydney Sweeney delivers a performance of astonishing naturalism as unassuming yoga-teacher turned whistleblower Reality Winner in this assured debut from playwright Tina Satter. Adapted from Satter’s own play Is This a Room, Reality offers a real-time reconstruction of the events of June 3, 2017, when 25-year-old Reality Winner, air force veteran and yoga instructor, is confronted by FBI agents at her home in Georgia. A part-time intelligence contractor, Winner leaked classified documents related to Russian interference in the American election of Donald Trump in 2016 to the press, an action that saw her prosecuted and which had a wide-ranging impact on American democracy.
Satter’s film unfolds with chilling, low-key menace, as Winner is slowly coerced into revealing the truth to two agents (played with unsettling sliminess by Eighth Grade’s Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis) while other agents search her home. Though it is Winner whose home is being invaded, the surrealism of the affair is heightened by the geniality of her interactions with the agents, as they joke about pets and the gym in-between heavy-duty questioning.
What elevates this exercise in simmering, slowly escalating panic (confined to practically one room for much of its action), is the way the film tracks almost imperceptible power shifts—a wayward glance, an offhand statement dripping with menace, a change in body language that reveals the agents’ true intentions. Satter makes great use of her clinical, invasive camera and sharp, unexpected moments of sound from outside the room punctuating the interrogation—a dog’s bark, a door slamming. At the center of it all is Sweeney, tremors of terror registering in subtle ripples of emotion across her face. It’s a performance of vanity-free dedication and control from the Euphoria and The White Lotus star, and one that is sure to generate awards conversation at year’s end. — Tom Augustine