On 3rd June 2017, after grocery shopping, Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) pulls up to her house where she is greeted by two extraordinarily courteous, strange men. They introduce themselves as FBI agents Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchánt Davis), and come fully equipped with a search warrant for her premises and electronic devices. What follows is a faithful reenactment of the original interrogation of the whistleblower who leaked a document pertaining to Russia’s involvement in the US election; the dialogue is taken verbatim from its transcript.
It becomes instantly evident what intrigued director Tina Satter about this particular incident – so much so that she first staged it as a play in 2019 (Is This a Room), before adapting it for the screen as her feature debut. The most gifted screenwriters dream of crafting lines this layered: subtle and yet utterly revealing at the same time. There is politeness and pragmatic discussion of how to handle the pets in the house and the perishables in the car, but underneath the civil words, an unnerving tension rises organically from the high stakes of the situation. When Winner discloses she owns an AR-15, she is asked if it is pink. The viewer is ready to grunt at the insinuated sexism, only to find out that this is indeed the case, unveiling the fact that these questions are merely a formality: the investigators already know everything about her.
Virtually transpiring in real time and in one location, there are no frills to distract from the performances, which are exquisitely restrained and sincere. All three protagonists are fully realised, tangible characters, complete with their own syntax and cadence. Sweeney and Hamilton in particular are given the opportunity to shine in their wholehearted depictions.
Reality distinguishes itself from other criminal procedural films through a consistently sober, downright minimalist approach to this political account, producing an effective outcome – not unlike Maria Schrader’s She Said, but hopefully with a more rewarding outcome at box offices.
Reality is released in UK cinemas on 2nd June 2023. Watch our interview with the director here.
Watch the trailer for Reality here: