Saturday, 23 Sep 2023

'Reality' starkly casts Sydney Sweeney as NSA whistleblower Reality Winner

'Reality' starkly casts Sydney Sweeney as NSA whistleblower Reality Winner

A filmed version of the 2019 play, "Reality's" stage origins are clearly evident, in an extremely spare and lean movie that serves as a decidedly unglamorous showcase for Sydney Sweeney, already an HBO all-star between "Euphoria" and "The White Lotus." With dialogue culled directly from Reality Winner's FBI interview, the movie is both meticulous to a fault and almost surreal in its awkwardness.

For those who need a refresher on the underlying facts, the then-25-year-old Winner was arrested in 2017 and subsequently charged with mishandling classified information. After a fleeting introduction of her at work as a National Security Agency intelligence specialist, the movie picks up with Winner being met by FBI agents as she arrives home, serving a search warrant and questioning her.

Writer-director Tina Satter adapts her play, which is defined by the small talk between Winner and the two agents (Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis), engaging a coy cat-and-mouse game since they clearly know more than they're letting on.

Much of the exchange is most notable for its banality in light of the subtext, as Winner frets about her dog and cat (the latter hiding somewhere in the house), as well as whether she can put her groceries away, before getting to the fundamental question, "Am I going to jail tonight?"

Satter cleverly presents the dialogue in a way that incorporates visual blips to denote redactions in the transcript, with occasional flashes of audio snippets from the actual interrogation.

The hyper-real approach conveys the tension and unease within the moment, while leaving sizable gaps in Winner's story and motivations (other than the TV at work being tuned to Fox News) that will likely inspire many thinking viewers to quickly Google her case.

There's an obvious timeliness in examining how Winner - celebrated for her status as a whistle-blower by those who see her sentence as a grave injustice - was imprisoned for mishandling a single classified document giving the legal issues pertaining to classified documents currently swirling around former President Donald Trump and others.

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