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Review: Reality (2023)

Reality (2023)

Directed by: Tina Satter

Premise: Based on true events. FBI agents search the home of Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney), a former American intelligence specialist suspected of leaking classified documents.

What Works: Reality was originally a stage play that was itself adapted from the FBI audio recordings of their agents’ conversation with Reality Winner. The stage source is evident in the film’s intimate scope. The story mostly takes place in the yard and spare bedroom of Reality Winner’s home and consists of intense dialogue exchanges between the former American intelligence specialist and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Despite the limited setting and small cast, Reality is very cinematic. This is the first feature of writer and director Tina Satter and it’s an impressive debut. The use of screen space and sound are especially impressive. The filmmakers choose interesting angles and include nondiegetic elements that dramatize this woman’s interior experience as she’s interrogated. It’s initially unclear if or what Winner has done and the filmmakers let the truth of the matter gradually reveal itself. Reality is an excellent example of embedding exposition into the dialogue and organically providing the audience with information. This is a dramatization but the filmmakers include documentary elements such as inserts of the actual recording of the interrogation. This is done without being distracting and it bolsters Reality’s credibility. This is a slow burn drama and the filmmakers keep up the pressure which is evident in the performances. Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis play the FBI agents and their approach is not so much good-cop-bad-cop but rather friendly. The agents behave as though they are on her side and the way the tone of the interrogation turns is a frightening display of manipulation. The film has a tremendous performance by Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner. Sweeney carefully gauges her voice, gesture, and gait; the subtleties of her performance reveal this woman’s internal calculations. 

What Doesn’t: Reality aims to be a political piece. It wants to put the viewer on Reality Winner’s side and it does that but only in a very basic and superficial way. This woman’s home is invaded by law enforcement and she shows grave concern for her pets, much more so than the possibility of being imprisoned. That makes her sympathetic but if there’s a greater political point we’re supposed to internalize it’s not clear. Winner is accused of leaking classified information and the film does not do an effective job addressing the content of the documents she released or why the information contained therein was newsworthy. The film’s focus is so limited that it is unable to connect the leak to any political issue in a meaningful way.  

Disc extras: Available on Max.

Bottom Line: Reality is an impressive feature debut from filmmaker Tina Satter with a terrific lead performance by Sydney Sweeney. The film’s political aspirations are unfulfilled but as a drama it is very effective.

Episode: #960 (August 6, 2023)