Reality Review

Sydney Sweeney stars as NSA whistleblower Reality Lee Winner in Tina Satter's gripping drama, ripped directly from FBI transcripts.

With Reality, her debut feature, writer-director Tina Satter adapts her own play for the big screen. Just as the play before it, the film draws from the FBI transcripts of an interview with NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner (Sydney Sweeney). Satter rises to the challenge of turning this premise into a memorable cinematic experience, crafting a gripping narrative around the complexities of truth and the cost of speaking out against powerful institutions.

The film unfolds entirely in and around Reality’s home, beginning on her driveway as she is approached by FBI agents Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchant Davis) with a warrant to search her premises. As agents swarm the property and commence the search, a subtle cat-and-mouse game ensues between Reality and the two men, with both sides reluctant to reveal their knowledge. Initially chummy and amiable, particularly Garrick, the agents’ small talk gradually gives way to a more serious interrogation as they accuse Reality of mishandling classified information.

The extent of Reality’s guilt and what the FBI has on her is at the heart of the tension and drama of the piece, especially for those unfamiliar with the true story behind the film. Information around Reality’s crimes is drip-fed throughout, building anticipation until the emotionally charged third act where the tension plateaus and the film’s legal, moral and ethical questions truly come to the forefront. It is in this climactic segment that Sweeney particularly shines, managing her character’s gradually escalating emotions well in the meatiest film role the Euphoria and White Lotus star has had to date.

Despite its on-stage origins and dialogue ripped verbatim from real life, Satter successfully justifies the big screen adaptation, transforming it into a dynamic and cinematic experience. Though essentially set in one place, Satter keeps the film visually interesting, interspersing the action with real footage of the raid, social media posts and Fox news clips. She even employs some abstract visuals and sound cuts when the dialogue from the transcripts is redacted, which is a creative way around it and adds visual intrigue to a third act set primarily in a dingy back room. Though the adherence to real dialogue gives the film a fascinating, borderline cinema verite feel, there was potential for Reality to become a static, stagey affair. However, Satter admirably avoids this pitfall, crafting a debut feature full of vision and promise.