Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Reality ★★★



Director: Tina Statter

Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis, Benny Elledge, John Way  

Released: 2nd June 2023

It’s hard to ignore someone actually named Reality Winner. Yet, despite ‘not wanting to be a Snowden’, the 25-year-old NSA linguistic contractor came to international prominence in 2017 as the latest high-stakes whistleblower when she was arrested for leaking classified information to the press about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Winner spent five years in prison – the longest-ever sentence for such crimes. Tina Satter’s 2019 play Is This A Room detailed Reality’s FBI interrogation and arrest, and now she helms its adaptation into her film directorial debut Reality. This dramatisation also marks the first leading role for Sydney Sweeney as the titular character; for a stark snapshot that is skilful and unnerving yet leaves viewers wondering what else lies outside the frame. 

In keeping with Satter’s play, the dialogue of Reality is taken entirely from the actual transcript, which starts as two FBI agents, Garrick (Marchánt Davis) and Taylor (Josh Hamilton), pull up outside Reality’s home. The agents inform her they’ve been made aware of the possible mishandling of classified information and that they have a warrant to search her home. Reality agrees, and soon several other cars arrive, with more plain-clothed agents spilling onto the premises. This display of severity lies in contrast with the conversation taking place on the front lawn. As the agents decide to start with ‘good cop – good cop’, we find out more about Winner, from her past as a former member of the United States Air Force to her CrossFit habits – interspersed with real photos and Instagram pictures of Winner. The length of this small talk tips almost into monotony, yet we’re kept engaged by the unsettling false geniality of the agents as well as the glaring fact Reality has not asked for a lawyer. 

Best known for her turn as perpetually distraught teen Cassie in HBO megahit Euphoria, the internet is awash with memes and odes to her character’s somewhat epic emotional outbursts, yet Reality proves a path less expected for Sweeney and a great addition to her repertoire. The bare bones set-up, as well as the slow building tension, allows for a depiction of fear and dread that’s masterfully contained as Sweeney dials between calm, unease and anguish. Redacted words in the transcript are blanked out, and as the niceties dissolve and accusations intensify, these omissions become physical manifestations, with Winner herself distorting and flickering off the screen. 

Reality makes for intriguing watching, however, its confined storytelling means some of the more interesting details of Winner’s story as a whole cannot be factored in. In its prosecution, the state used social media messages between Winner and her sister, Brittany, where she vented against Trump and the state of the country, to paint her as a domestic danger rather than a patriot. Some of this is hinted at in the brief real news footage that comes at the end of the film. Even a slightly wider look at the narrative may have added deeper insight into Winner’s decision to take matters into her own hands and provided more emotional heft. 

Reality is a taut, minimalistic thriller propelled by small yet effective stylistic flourishes. For those wanting to know the end-to-end facts of the case, Reality may prove a little too enigmatic, and at times the audience is called to feel more than they’re given to connect with. However, a great performance by Sydney Sweeney provides an intriguing entry point into a compelling story of humanity and moral responsibility. 

Just For You