Reality (2023) Review by: Benjamin Garrett
At what point is whistleblowing justified? Is it ever? What if it’s for the good of your country? Reality tells the true story of an NSA translator being investigated by the FBI for leaking classified documents. Its hyper-accurate retelling of real events makes for occasionally dry viewing, but it doesn’t make what happened any less unnerving.
The entire movie takes place over the course of a few hours, recounting the FBI’s questioning of Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) and the search of her home. Every bit of dialogue is pulled directly from audio recordings, which makes this one of the most accurate true stories you’ll ever see. Because of this approach, it often feels closer to a reenactment than a film, but that accuracy lends a sobering authenticity to it all. There are no embellishments or creative liberties here. Just the facts, the exact way they unfolded.
The film serves as an acting showcase for Sweeney, as we see her cycle through a range of emotions while she’s grilled by FBI investigators. Her calm demeanour in the opening moments of the investigation, and the eventual transiting to panic as the gravity of the situation sinks in, is absolutely phenomenal, and some of Sweeney’s best work.
Being based on partially classified documents, there’s some content the movie isn’t able to speak about or show us. Editing is used to cut around redacted dialogue, while trying to keep this story as accurate as possible. This approach is something I found gimmicky and distracting. Characters glitching out of frame any time something redacted is spoken is effective enough, but it pulls you out of an otherwise grounded experience.
This fact based retelling lays its true events out on the table with no Hollywood fluff. It’s a dry but nevertheless fascinating look at political secrecy and just how much reach the government has. Sydney Sweeney delivers arguably the finest performance of her career, elevating what could have been far more cut and dry than what we got.