On June 3, 2017, former US Air Force translator Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) returned to her home in Augusta, Georgia to find two FBI agents waiting for her with a warrant to search her house. What played out over the next couple of hours was recorded and documented by the FBI and in 2019 that interrogation was conceived as a play which debuted to sold-out audiences in New York. Tina Satter, who conceived and directed the play, Is This A Room, is back on directing duties for this big screen version, titled Reality, and delivers this incredible true story in a way that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
As the movie opens, notes shown on screen inform us that everything we’re about to see and hear has been taken directly from the original audio recording and transcript made by the FBI during the search of Reality Winner’s house. We’re also reminded of this fact throughout the movie by occasionally being shown the actual transcript typed on screen as it accompanies what is being spoken. We’re also shown official documents and related photos and get to hear the original audio itself at times, all helping to reinforce the factual nature of what we are seeing. Even posts from Reality’s Instagram account crop up here and there.
What’s surprising right from the outset is just how calmly this all played out. The agents inform Reality that they are investigating the leak of classified documents and have a warrant to search her home and car. Reality is very nonchalant about all of this, far more concerned about her two pets inside the house – a dog who will need to be let outside and a cat who is likely to escape if the search team leaves her front door open. For a while, the agents seem pretty relaxed too, almost inexperienced and more interested in finding out about Reality and her life. But all of that gradually changes over the course of the next couple of hours (or 89 minutes of screen time for us).
As more FBI agents arrive, the two lead agents take Reality out to a spare room at the back of her house to question her further. They know full well that it was her who leaked a classified report about Russian interference in U.S. elections to the press, they just need her to confess to it. Parts of the original interrogation transcript that were redacted are portrayed here with the use of image distortion, or even characters glitching temporarily out of the scene, which only adds to the intensity. And every pause, laugh, cough or bark that was captured on the original audio recording is recreated.
Without a lawyer present to help guide Reality through the constant pressure she’s coming under from the patronising FBI agents, it’s not long before she finally confesses to sneaking the document out of the office and leaking it to news organisation The Intercept. Angry at the election of Donald Trump and the political turmoil that was constantly shown on the news channels that were playing on the TVs in her office all day long, Reality felt that she was simply serving her country. She believed that what she was doing was in the public interest and certainly did not realise the severity of her actions. Sydney Sweeney does an outstanding job of bringing the raw emotion from the audio transcript to life. And it is a mesmerising watch
Reality takes what is in essence a simple true story, the core of which plays out over the course of just a couple of hours. Throw in some incredible performances from its main cast and the result is something pretty amaing.
Reality will be in UK and Irish cinemas from June 2nd.
Where to Watch
Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.