On June 3, 2017, former Air Force veteran and former NSA translator, Reality Winner, arrived at her home in Augusta, Georgia to the FBI with a search warrant to search her home and all of her belongings. The conversations and eventual interrogation of Winner in her own house were all caught by an audio recording device, and the transcription of that audio has been mirrored word for word in filmmaker Tina Satter’s tense thriller, Reality.
Starring Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria) as Reality Winner, the film is an almost in-real time dramatisation of the events captured on the audio device. Starting from the initial chit-chat conversations while the FBI clear her house, the intense atmosphere slowly builds as general discussions about Reality’s rescue dog, crossfit and her desire to go on deployment as an Air Force translator, turn into an uncomfortably tense interrogation about information Reality may have leaked from the NSA.
There is an exciting novelty to knowing that the script for Reality is a word-for-word adaptation of the transcript, and it creates for some truly eye-rolling moments with certain remarks made by the FBI, but also shines a light on the scary reality of the situation that conveys on screen as a taut thriller. However, being a film that relies so heavily on dialogue instead of action, it comes down to how Satter puts the film together visually that makes or breaks the immersion.
Aside from the opening shot, which shows Reality in her office at the NSA, working away as Fox News blasts over every single television on the walls, the entire film takes place at Reality’s Augusta home. Satter’s direction utilises space incredibly well. While Reality is engaged in what is seemingly harmless, nonchalant conversation with the FBI, Satter gives the frame room to breathe, a sense that everything is going to be okay. But as the conversations become more malicious in tone, and the dread builds, the camera pushes closer, and the walls of the frame become tighter, suffocating and claustrophobically trapping Reality, but the audience as well.
It could also have been incredibly easy for Satter’s direction to just point and shoot conversations for 80 minutes, which would have made for a boring film. However, Satter uses unique and interesting styles to tell the story. An example being that anything redacted from the transcript (names, outlets and the leak itself) is shown as a static glitch in which the audio drops out and the characters are removed from the frame to show an empty background of the room the interrogation is taking place. It’s exciting filmmaking tricks like this that makes Reality some immersive and tense.
Reality is also a vehicle for Sydney Sweeney’s best performance in film or television yet. The range and variety of emotions she conveys in just 80 minutes is astounding and feels incredibly authentic. The awkwardness and uncertainty of the initial FBI encounter is then outdone by the heightened emotional state she goes to when the twists and turns are revealed throughout the story, culminating to a fantastic third act moment in which Sweeney goes on a tour-de-force run of working the scene, the dialogue and the camera to perfection. Sweeney is absolutely also aided by great supporting performances from Marchant Davis and Josh Hamilton.
Reality is a taut, tense thriller that takes its already terrifying real life source material and dramatises it into a nail biting 80 minutes. Tina Satter uses a great visual aesthetic to accentuate the ever growing tension, but it’s Sydney Sweeney who truly steals the show with a career defining performance.
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