Sydney Sweeney stuns in fact-based whistleblower thriller – IndieWire

A young woman sits in a gray office – locked near her desk – as Fox News reports that Donald Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey, reportedly over his investigation into how Russian interference in the US election 2016 probably worked in favor of the 45th president. . Twenty-five days later, the same woman returns to her home in Augusta, Georgia, to find two FBI agents with a search warrant for her property. She doesn’t look surprised. In 80 minutes, this former Air Force member and NSA translator will have received the toughest sentence ever for the unauthorized release of government information to the media.

The woman — blonde bun, jean shorts, fresh, unassuming attitude — is Reality Winner (a ridiculously ironic name, all things considered). Tina Satter’s riveting directorial debut takes her startling indiscretion and turns it into something out of a horror movie about the repercussions of Doing The Right Thing in the face of America’s surveillance system: A story by David and Goliath where the strongest power throws stones squarely in the face of the underdog. Not only is “Reality” edited inventively and extraordinarily tense, but in a tense 85 minutes, it proves something we already knew deep down: that Sydney Sweeney is the real deal.

Adapted from its own off-Broadway play “Is This A Room”, the film – in an ingenious twist also deployed in the play – draws its dialogue directly from a 107-minute audio transcript recorded on June 3, 2017, in which agents Wallace Taylor (Marchánt Davis) and Justin Garrick (Josh Hamilton) questioned Winner for alleged mishandling of classified information. Bowing to its big reveal through awkward surreal conversation, “Reality” is gripping and deceptively layered, delineating both the FBI’s ingenious interrogation tactics and Sweeney’s extraordinary range.

At the heart of the film’s eerie and propelling appeal is Winner herself, who is both an ordinary American and an extraordinary enigma. She is patriotic, athletic, teaches yoga, raises dogs, has military ties and a crucifix on her wall; she is also fluent in Farsi, Dari, and Pashto, owns three rifles (including a pink AR-15-style rifle), and a Holy Quran decorated with pink post-its. She’s friendly, docile, and all-American, which only makes her story more bizarre and compelling. She’s not exactly spy girlbossification: When she says she wasn’t “trying to be a Snowden or anything,” she’s believed.

We follow Winner on what is, essentially, both a chamber play and a one-room thriller: three characters, growing tension, growing despair. As FBI agents attempt to dispel Winner’s nerves through polite conversation and acting calm – if “acting calm” means acting like you’ve just been told a meteor is about to hit the earth, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone – we are, almost in real time, privy to how Winner was encouraged to confess to her crime. The crime being that, out of a sense of duty to the American people who were being lied to, she printed an intelligence report explaining that Russian hackers had accessed voter rolls in the United States with an email phishing operation, slipped the paper into her pantyhose and sent it to the non-profit news organization The Intercept.

After being recognized as a flighty, flirty teenager in ‘Euphoria’ and ‘The White Lotus’ and starring in the clever erotic thriller ‘The Voyeurs’, Sweeney is more than ready to step into the limelight as a lead. But ahead of Marvel’s upcoming “Madame Web” tentpole, she’s cleverly created an independent that celebrates her extraordinary talents and wide-eyed likability. As evidenced by “Reality” and elsewhere, the actress is so good at acting like she’s about to panic — she’s never, ever been happier, thank you so much — and here her subtly flushed cheeks, giving in to an irregular panic, only becomes more and more convincing as Satter plunges its magnifying camera class into increasingly square close-ups.

The first-time director makes the proceedings both genuinely chilling and absurdly everyday, with sudden, chilling jolts of noise and jarring editing; it also deploys an intriguing method of cinematizing the redacted aspects of the transcript through chilling quasi-jumpcuts. He shows us a questioning, in itself an exchange initiated for cinematographic dramatization, but here with the Hollywood brilliance erased. Because the script is taken almost verbatim from the actual incident, the resulting conversations are repetitive in an eerily realistic and intriguing way. By weaving and recreating real sound and photography, Satter’s work almost feels like a documentary.

It’s just one small story in a Trump-era corruption deluge, but Reality Winner is proof alone that even the most dedicated and patriotic Americans were sick to the back teeth with the noise. hallucinogen of endless Fox News chatter. Given her growing helplessness and anger at government cover-ups and her insider view of the real truth, it’s easy to see how she finally cracked, undoing years of painstaking work to maintain an empowerment. top secret security.

And while this may be the starkest example of the old adage “snitches have stitches” (Winner was sentenced to five years and three months in prison), Satter carefully exposes the growing tension and mania behind any the debacle with a new point of view. view: not a mere gimmick, but a unique, pint-sized take on the saturated canon of whistleblower thrillers across the cabinet.

Rating: A-

“Reality” premiered at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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