Sometimes, life really is stranger than fiction. Countless times in our long history could point to a moment where you find yourself scratching your head as to whether or not what you’re seeing is real or fantasy, on both sides of the coin. In recent history, particularly across The Pond, there have been a plethora of instances that have left us all puzzled and bemused, perhaps none more so than the utter disregard for democracy in the States Capitol attack in 2021. But some things are small anecdotes, tiny ripples that make all too few column inches when, in reality, they’re so much bigger than that. The story of Reality Winner (yes, it’s her real name), is perhaps a good example of such news but what happened to her then and now, really is something unreal.
Taking its cue from the real-life interactions – and FBI transcriptions of the interrogation- that occurred on June 2nd, 2017, Tina Satter‘s engaging, mesmeric drama is unlike anything else you will see this year but it will certainly be one of the best. Winner (Sydney Sweeney) was an NSA translator when, 25 days earlier, she discovered documents pertaining to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections. Returning home from grocery shopping, she is met by two FBI agents (Marchant Davis and Josh Hamilton) with a search warrant who have been tasked to find out the truth of both Winner’s leaking of information and what, if any, her endgame is.
Adapted from the play This Is A Room from the same creatives, Reality immediately seizes you into its vice-like grip and doesn’t let up, only getting stronger and stronger as secrets are revealed and agendas show their true colours. For much of it, you’ll be figuring out which side of the fence you will eventually land on: did Winner really do what was best for her country, or was it a ploy to be infamous, a new Edward Snowden-style whistle-blower that wanted to hit the headlines? Do you side with the law and order representatives just doing their jobs, or are they too, by default, complicit and deserving of having such truths exposed? So expertly and meticulously does Satter bring it all to life that it’s hard to decide but that’s the point – in presenting the film in this way, it leaves you wanting to know more and ask the questions that countless others have been asking for nearly a decade.
It’s gripping from the very first moment, with Satter expertly cranking up the tension as the truth – and lies – come more to the fore and the walls come closing in to suffocate those inside them. Indeed, in showing events for what they were, the film has a unique, unfiltered lens that only acts to broaden the conversations over power, lies, corruption and the current political landscape, one that continues to protect their own and spit out the “little guy”.
Sweeney, known to many for her impressive turns in HBO’s Euphoria as firecracker Cassie Howard, is simply astounding in the lead with an emotional yet commanding performance that perfectly navigates the ever-changing complexities of Winner’s journey over the few hours we spend with her. One minute quiet and angst-ridden, the next powerful and assured, Sweeney’s deftness and fearlessness are a joy throughout, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that we are still talking about her turn – and the film – come awards season.
Thriller, Drama | 2023 | Vertigo Releasing | 15 | In cinemas June 2nd | Dir: Tina Satter | Sydney Sweeney, Marchant Davis, Josh Hamilton