In May 2017, Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey, a decision that angered NSA (National Security Agency) translator Reality Winner so much that she leaked a classified document about Russian hacking in the 2016 US election to an online news site called The Intercept. This short, sharp drama, named after the whistleblower (played with impressive poise by Sydney Sweeney), documents the events of June 3, 2017 – the day she was arrested.
Using dialogue from the FBI’s actual audio transcription of the events, augmented with TV news clips, the action in Reality takes place mostly at its subject’s home in August, Georgia. Special Agents Justin Garrick (Josh Hamilton, Eighth Grade) and Rob Wallace (Marchánt Davis, The Day Shall Come) prevent Reality from entering her home and tell her to put her dog in the backyard. They take her mobile phone and keep her under close surveillance. They ask questions about her animals and hobbies such as power-lifting and her past in the Air Force, as well as details about her job translating documents from Farsi into English. Then, when they take Reality into a bare, prison cell-like back-room in her home, the real interrogation begins.
Although several other agents search the house, Reality is for the most part a three-hander – and if it feels like a play, that’s because it’s based on Is This A Room, from which director Tina Satter adapted to make this film. Slowly but surely, the details of exactly what Reality did and how she did it are revealed. It’s gripping stuff, with clever sound design heightening Reality’s increasing distress as she realises what trouble she’s in.
Sweeney is excellent as the whistleblower who slowly but surely realises the game is up and creeps from poised confidence to frightened, tearful regret. Hamilton and Davis are also very believable as agents in complete control. They know they have evidence that she has leaked the info and go about coaxing the what, how and why of her leaking with dexterity but it’s frustrating that certain parts of the audio (and, indeed, original document) has been redacted. It would have been especially interesting to know exactly what the alleged Russian hacking involved and how it was done. At the very least, the film casts doubt on the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency but just how much influence did the Russian involvement have on the election outcome? At the end of this smart, tight drama we’re left wondering.
- Director: Tina Satter
- Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis
- Release date: Reality screened at the Berlin Film Festival in February. A UK cinema release has not been confirmed yet