Reality REVIEW – A Tense Piece of Filmmaking

Sydney Sweeney delivers a phenomenal central performance.


With tentpole movies like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and The Little Mermaid dominating cinemas this past weekend, smaller movies like Reality, which was released on Max, might escape notice. This is a shame as Tina Satter’s Reality is one of the better movies I’ve watched this year. It reminded me of Mass, which is also a one location movie that depends on the actors to rev up the tension and keep viewers invested. Single location films aren’t easy to pull off, so it’s no small feat when a movie manages it.

The film begins with the titular Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) arriving home after grocery shopping, only to be greeted by the FBI. They mention that they’re there regarding a leak of confidential information, but don’t seem in a massive hurry to interrogate Reality. If you’re watched enough crime documentaries, you’ll know that this is strategic, with the agents hoping to wear down the individual so they don’t come in immediately on the offensive. As they engage in small talk about her pets and CrossFit, there’s an unease that permeates the air. Reality often looks at them with expectation, wondering when they will get to the root of why they’re there, which helps us see that she knows why they have a search warrant for her house and car.

What is even more remarkable is that the entire film is built around actual dialogue between the real Reality and the FBI. Real life conversations aren’t as well articulated as written dialogue since we’re held back by our little quips and tongue-twisted moments, but in Reality, the staging is done so effectively that it doesn’t feel awkward or jarring. The film moves between audio clips, the transcript, as well as Reality’s social media posts, which helps keep things visually interesting, given that it’s working within the constraints of having the entire action of the film in one location. Whenever one of the characters mentions something that’s redacted in the transcript, they disappear from the scene abruptly before returning to resume the conversation. This is such a great stylistic choice, and adds to the tension within the film’s spaces.

Watching Reality feels akin to watching a horror movie, with a soundscape that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and set pieces that amp up the tension. There are quite a few moments when Reality gets boxed in by the FBI agents, like when she’s keeping her groceries or getting her cat from under the bed, and we feel her discomfort as she watches her home and belongings get casually torn apart.

The film lives and breathes on Sweeney’s performance as Reality, and she delivers in spades. Her facial expressions are just so absorbing to watch, as she telegraphs everything Reality is feeling, as well as her anxiety whenever she slips up and says more than she should have. Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis, who play FBI agents Justin and Wally, are excellent as well. Hamilton’s Justin smiles frequently, appears conciliatory, but there’s an edge to his friendly demeanour. Davis’ Wally plays more of the good cop, with repeated mentions of how she just “made a mistake” and she’s not a person who does things like this. As much as they joke around with her, or applaud her physicality, they feel like sharks circling their prey, ready to pounce at any slip-up. For Reality, the outcome of this conversation is detrimentally life-changing, but for these agents, it’s just another day at work.

The movie doesn’t sway from the real life events, so it might not feel as cathartic as something more fictional. Yet it manages to be absolutely riveting, and offers some insight into why Reality Winner did what she did. A definite must-watch.

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Tina Satter's Reality is a masterful excursion into a real life event, with captivating performances that will leave you enthralled and on the edge of your seat.