‘Reality’ review: Sydney Sweeney stuns in one-room thriller

Berlin: Tina Satter’s film is ingeniously edited and extremely tense, but it proves something we already knew: Sydney Sweeney is the real deal.


A young woman sits in a gray office – next to a cubicle desk – as Fox News reports that Donald Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey, presumably because he is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. likely benefited the 45th president. . Twenty-five days later, the same woman returns to her house in Augusta, Georgia, to find two FBI agents with a search warrant on her property. He doesn’t seem surprised. In 80 minutes, a former Air Force member and NSA translator will receive the harshest sentence ever for the unauthorized release of government information to the media.

The woman – blonde bun, denim shorts, fresh and unassuming demeanor – Reality Winner (a ridiculously ironic name all things considered). Tina Satter’s impressive directorial debut turns her shocking indiscretions into a horror film about the consequences of doing the right thing against the US surveillance system: a David and Goliath story in which the stronger power throws the stones right back. in the face of the underdog. “Reality” is not only imaginatively structured and extremely tense, but during the 85 tense minutes it proves something we already knew deep down: that Sydney Sweeney is the real one.

Adapted from his own off-Broadway play, “Is This A Room,” the film—with a touch of genius in the play itself—takes dialogue directly from the 107-minute audio transcript recorded on June 3, 2017, featuring Agents Wallace. Taylor (Marchánt Davis) and Justin Garrick (Josh Hamilton) interrogated Winner on suspicion of mishandling classified information. Building toward the big reveal through surreally awkward conversation, “Reality” is gripping and deceptively layered, charting the FBI’s brilliant interrogation tactics and Sweeney’s extraordinary reach.

At the center of the film’s strange and dynamic appeal is Winner himself, who is both an ordinary American and an extraordinary mystery. He is patriotic, athletic, teaches yoga, raises dogs, has military ties and a crucifix on his wall; she speaks fluent Farsi, Dari and Pashto, has three guns (including a pink AR-15 rifle) and a Holy Quran decorated with pink Post-Its. He’s friendly, docile and all-American, which only makes his story all the more exciting. This isn’t a cynosure of espionage, exactly: when he says he “didn’t want to be Snowden or anything,” we believe him.

We follow Winner in what is essentially a chamber piece and a one-room thriller: three characters, increasing tension, increasing desperation. As the FBI agents try to calm Winner’s nerves with polite conversation and a calm demeanor—if “calm demeanor” means acting like you’ve just been told a meteor is about to hit the ground, but you can’t tell anyone. – we learn almost in real time how Winner was induced to confess his crime. The crime was that out of duty to the Americans they had lied to, he printed an intelligence report explaining that Russian hackers had accessed voter registration rolls in the United States through an email phishing operation and planted the paper. tights and sent it to the non-profit news organization The Intercept.

After establishing herself as a flighty, flirtatious teen in “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus” and starring in the intelligent erotic thriller “The Voyeurs,” Sweeney is ready to step into the limelight as a leading lady. But ahead of the upcoming Marvel marquee “Madame Web,” she has deftly crafted an indie that celebrates her extraordinary talent and wide-eyed likability. As she’s proven on “Reality” and elsewhere, the actress is so good at acting like she’s on the verge of going insane — she’s never, ever been happier, thank you very much — and here her gently blushing cheeks turn into ragged panic, it only gets more impressive as Satter cranks the camera’s zoom class into boxier and boxier close-ups.

The first-time filmmaker makes the events both terrifying and absurdly mundane, with sudden, frightening noises and jarring editing; he also employs an interesting method of making the edited aspects of the transcript cinematic with scary quasi-jumps. It shows us an interrogation, itself an exchange, based on a film dramatization, but here with a wash of Hollywood glamour. Since the script is taken almost word for word from the real event, the resulting conversations repeat themselves in a strangely lifelike, intriguing way. By interweaving and recreating real audio and photographs, Satter’s work has an almost documentary effect.

It’s just one small story in the ongoing barrage of Trump-era corruption, but Reality Winner alone is proof that even the most dedicated and patriotic Americans have grown sick of Fox News’ endless hallucinogenic blaring. Given his growing helplessness and anger at the government’s cover-ups, and his insider’s opinion of where the truth really lies, it’s easy to see how he eventually snapped, abandoning all the painstaking work he’d done to maintain a top-secret security clearance.

And while this may be the most brutally gross example of the old adage that “snitches get stitches” (the winner was sentenced to five years and three months in prison), Satter carefully exposes the escalating tension and mania behind the whole debacle with a new point. view: not a mere gimmick, but a unique, pint-sized take on the saturated canon of whistleblower thrillers that can be blown through the cabin.

grade: A-

“Reality” premiered at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. Currently looking for distribution.

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