Deborah Ross

Terrifying: Reality reviewed

Sydney Sweeney's performance as the American whistleblower Reality Winner will possess you

Friendly as hell FBI agents, Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchánt Davis), interviewing Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) in Reality

Reality is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that isn’t like any edge-of-your seat thriller you’ve encountered before. Trust me. It’s a docudrama that isn’t ‘based on a true story’ because it is a true story. It’s an enactment of the FBI’s interrogation of American whistleblower Reality Winner. Taken directly from the transcript of the audio recording, the word-for-word screenplay includes every cough, every ‘um’, every dog bark, every banality, no embellishments. Yet it’s more terrifying than any film that has set out to terrify (see: Sisu). You should trust me on this too.

The film is directed with clarity and precision by Tina Satter, a playwright who discovered the transcript online and first turned it into a theatre piece (Is This a Room). You may not have heard of Reality Winner. I hadn’t. Her name doesn’t seem to be up there with Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. I don’t know why. Sydney Sweeney is Winner and she is phenomenal, but we’ll get to that later.

The film opens, like the audio recording, with Winner returning to her home in Augusta, Georgia, on 3 June 2017. She is 25, and wearing cut-off jeans. It’s a Saturday, she’s just been grocery shopping, and here are two FBI agents waiting on her doorstep. The agents, Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchánt Davis), are friendly as hell. She’s a National Security Agency translator, fluent in Farsi, Pashto and Dari, and they’re awestruck. ‘Wow. That’s impressive. I am barely able to speak English,’ says Garrick. Winner laughs. ‘English is hard,’ she jokes. They talk about her passions (yoga, crossfit, animals) and show concern for her rescue dog and the rescue cat who is fat: ‘Girl likes to eat,’ says Winner. (This is sometimes funny.) We know, and she knows, that their amiability is in the service of something dark.

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