Reality (2023) Movie Review – A ‘Winner’ all the way through


A ‘Winner’ all the way through

The sensational true story of Reality Winner is the underlying inspiration for HBO’s new film.

In a unique creative experiment, director Tina Satter dramatizes the real-life FBI transcripts from the day of Reality’s arrest. The former intelligence agent and US Air Force linguist was found to have leaked classified information from the NSA to the general media.

Sydney Sweeney stars as Reality, while Josh Hamilton and Marchant Davis feature as the primary FBI agents who effectuated the arrest. Satter and the rest of the team give a committed effort. The lengths they go to fully realize the experiment and use a raw mix of drama and emotions are commendable, and wholeheartedly impossible without Sweeney’s game-changing performance.

To show the verbatim adherence to the transcript, we see glimpses of dialogue from the original papers filed by the FBI. Even the slightest of pauses or stammering is reproduced on the screen. A lot of what was unsaid by Reality is translated to perfection by Sweeney. Among all of those things, specifically Winner’s realization that she had made a huge mistake was the most heartening one.

Satter has previously adapted this same material in a stage play called Is This a Room and the similarities are self-evident. The treatment of the material remains largely the same. ‘Reality’ is staged like a play itself. The blocking, positioning of the camera, and the way the characters interact are simplistic but certainly, the chill of imagining oneself in Reality’s shoes does not go amiss. To have the FBI randomly show up at your house – a dozen, if not more, highly trained well-built agents – and put your life story on pause can have a devastating effect.

Satter and the team strip Reality of almost all essential storytelling elements to the bone. There is a lot to read between the lines but the film really is just a handful of people talking in different rooms.

The build-up, thanks to the actual intervention by the FBI, gradually elevates from a generalized tone and tenor to cutthroat specificity, the effects of which we see on screen in Sweeney’s body language and overall portrayal. In fact, everything that is good about ‘Reality’ pans back to Sweeney’s masterful performance. This is unlike anything the young actress has done before and is a complete transformation of the parts we have seen her in previously. Her sense of being Reality comes from the littlest of things like her sense of humour or palpable nervousness. This is not to undermine the fine work by the whole team but the film’s success hinges on the believability of Sweeney’s performance.

Despite being so intimately about politics, ‘Reality’ is surprisingly not politically charged. The characterization of the film is easily misplaced in the subjectiveness of the viewers but Satter herself said before the film’s release that ‘Reality’ is not an indictment of “one form of the government.” However, the HBO film is aware of the aftermath of Reality’s arrest and the impact it had on popular culture. The government’s decision to charge her under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law, drew attention and raised concerns about the handling of whistle-blowers and leaks in the modern era. “Whistleblowing in the public interest” and “compromising national security” were the two-fold versions that dominated headlines.

Before her revelations became public, the Russian interference and the vulnerabilities of the U.S. election system, especially in the context of the 2016 elections, were kept quiet. Keeping the public conscience quiet was preferred rather than facing the very real possibility that America’s most hated and intense nemesis could have destroyed its ethos of democratic ideals. Supporters saw Reality as a courageous whistleblower exposing government misconduct. Others, however, criticized her for potentially compromising national security and leaking classified information.

Winner’s arrest and subsequent legal proceedings raised broader questions about government transparency, the handling of classified information, and the role of whistleblowers in American society. It contributed to ongoing debates about the balance between national security and the public’s right to know. ‘Reality’ does not imbue these observations or commentary in its core. But there is a transient attempt to reignite the discourse in times when the idea of free speech is going through a tough phase.

In the broader landscape of American politics, Winner’s arrest became part of the larger narrative surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 elections and allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The case also underscored the heightened tensions and divisions within American society during a politically charged period.

Due to its nature, ‘Reality’ is not for those looking to be fed a regurgitated form of the events in simple moviemaking terms. Its new style of storytelling is jarring, confrontational, and not the sum of its substance. The film raises pointed questions about how the government handled the leak and subsequent whistle-blowers who wanted to level the scales of public information.

‘Reality’ epitomizes the tame and frightful response from America to a fundamental attack on its democratic institutions and moral ideals but also excels as a compelling creative experiment that is able to outperform the expectations and realities of its conception.


Read More: Reality Ending Explained

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

  • Verdict - 8/10

Leave a comment