An FBI transcript turned into a riveting true story.
One of the Best of 2023
|Reality takes a new spin on the based-on-a-true-story genre by presenting a word-for-word real-time account of something that most of us probably only know from headlines in the news. And wow does this style ever work. It is impressive how much our perceptions of the story and the people shift and suspense has been packed in as the filmmakers follow the actual transcript of the FBI raid and interrogation of Reality Winner.
Directed by: Tina Satter
Screenplay by: Tina Satter, James Paul Dallas
Starring: Sydney Sweeney
Rising star Sydney Sweeney, famous for Euphoria and The White Lotus, is well on her way to becoming a much bigger name and her performance here will only help. The opening credits play over scenes of her at work; she works for the NSA but in a cubicle translating boring documents while Fox news plays on a little TV off the ceiling. When the movie actually starts it feels like we’re thrown into chaos. The gritty low-budget style of the production aids in the uneasy feeling of not really knowing what is happening.
Reality (Sweeney) has just arrived home from the grocery store, she stays in her vehicle longer than seems normal; she can sense something isn’t right. As soon as she steps out of her vehicle she is greeted by several FBI agents. They’re all wearing regular street clothes, they talk slowly and friendly and very awkwardly. They’re just here for a little chat, but they also have a warrant for her house and herself which they haven’t yet produced. She seems way too calm for a girl presenting herself as surprised and completely innocent of whatever crimes they’re about to tell her she committed. Maybe she printed off one of her reports to translate and accidentally took it home with her? Maybe, that’s probably not it though.
The raid and interrogation last a little over an hour. The calm and completely innocent young woman from the beginning is gradually replaced by a scared and calculating young woman who knew exactly what she did, knew exactly what crimes she had broken and why she did it. A woman who was trying to hang on to her freedom by feeding the FBI agents little quarter-truths for as long as possible. The shift in her demeanor as more and more of her story is revealed is perfect. The FBI agents who put on a regular guy act probably could have gone for a whole lot longer than she held on for.
It's like a cat and mouse game where the audience knows next to nothing and the cats and the mouse both know a whole lot more than they want to reveal and they both have plans for where they want to go but only one can win. Reality is a remarkably simple movie filled with tension and suspense as the more complicated natures of the people involved gradually get revealed.