DIRECTOR TINA SATTER CAST: SYDNEY SWEENEY; JOSH HAMILTON; MARCHÁNT DAVIS
UK CINEMAS 2ND JUNE 2023
RUNNING TIME: 83 MINUTES / CERT 12A
Left & Right: Sydney Sweeny/Centre: Josh Hamilton & Marchant Davis
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
“Reality” seems too good a name to be true for the young woman who leaked documents on Russian interference in the US presidential elections 2016 in a quest to expose democratic corruption to the US public - to make them “face reality”. Indeed, Reality Winner became the first whistle-blower in the Trump era but perhaps her surname is not quite as apt.
Reality Winner is confronted one afternoon at her home by FBI agents. A twenty-something, former Air Force veteran and aspiring intelligence specialist who translates Farsi, she now has a governmental desk job analysing data. She is privy to confidential information at work. She is also subjected to relentless streaming of Fox News on big screens which conflicts with her findings, enough to drive anyone mad.
Adapted from Tina Satter’s 2019 stage play Is This a Room, (a sell-out in New York when debuted), the film is contained within a limited setting. The location is Reality’s low-rent bungalow somewhere in Augusta, Georgia in a dead-end suburb where lone men stare her out in the dark. After sealing the house with yellow tape, the FBI agents take Reality into an outhouse room. The bleak setting is alienating and works a treat in increasing her (and the audience’s) anxiety.
Cleverly, Satter uses only the recorded transcript of Reality’s interrogation by the FBI as dialogue. Intercut with flashbacks at work and Fox News screenshots, Satter focusses on Reality’s petrified face as she rallies to appear nonchalant (as if a visit from the FBI is routine). Like a moving collage, the film is intercut with visuals of the transcript including redacted sections and the real-time voices of Reality and the federal agents.
Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria, The White Lotus) is faultless in her performance. For the part, she spoke with Reality Winner over zoom and comments “Reality embodies all sorts of interesting contradictions that defy easy assumptions about what it means to be a woman, a veteran and a millennial.”
Reality’s small standing, her girl-next-door ordinariness and her work ethic belies a curious and conscientious mind. She contrasts in stature with the FBI agents Agent Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Agent Taylor (Marchant Davis) who are portrayed with the perfect balance of idiocy and intensity. They are big guys and stare Winner out in what becomes a game of who blinks first. Both actors deliver priceless glances and off-hand comments – a cringing joy to behold – as they steer Reality into confession.
Other treats in this sharp, indie flick are the animals – a caged dog which doesn’t like men and a fluffy cat who hides under the bed – which add to the surreal nature of Reality. What becomes of Reality Winner is still unfolding, as is the legacy of external influences on sovereign determination in America and worldwide.