Sydney Sweeney Deserves an Oscar for Tense Docudrama

Nearly six years ago, on June 3rd 2017, Reality Winner — a former U.S. Air Force member fluent in three Middle Eastern languages — parked her car in front of her home in Augusta, Georgia, only to be greeted by two FBI agents lingering on her driveway. There they inform Miss Winner that they have a warrant to search her premises, her phone, her car, and her person. Although everything is polite, there is still ample tension; it feels like a ticking time bomb is about to explode at any second. The tension is only heightened when three black SUV’s pull up to Reality’s house in order to search her property more thoroughly.


Why is all this happening to a young woman, you may ask ? Well, if you don’t already know the story, Reality Winner worked for the NSA as a translator, where she went on to leak highly classified intelligence documents about the Russian interference in the 2016 election, to the press. She was later charged with “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.” Reality therefore faced a prison sentence of five years and six months for violating the Espionage Act 1917, the longest sentence for the unauthorized release of government information to the media.

Reality, an HBO Original Film that’s now streaming on Max, follows this real life story and interrogation in a tension filled event. The movie is a word-for-word reenactment of the interrogation of Reality Winner, much like the stage play it’s adapting. Audiences who haven’t heard the story of Reality Winner may be a little confused through some moments of the movie, however by the end Tina Satter satisfyingly wraps the movie up and breaks down the minutiae to inform viewers of why the FBI were after Reality Winner, and the repercussions for her crime.

We have seen countless movies and shows depict real life events and crimes, yet few are as enthralling, tense, or powerful as Tina Satter’s directorial debut, cementing Reality as one of the best.

Related: The Best True-Crime Documentary Movies Ever Made, Ranked

Tina Satter’s Flawless Directorial Debut

Tina Satter makes her directorial debut with Reality, adapting her own stage play, Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, a word-for-word staging of Reality Winner’s interrogation. The stage play was minimalist, profound, and deeply tense, and Satter packs down everything that makes her play so impactful and nerving, and unloads it all into this remarkable docudrama.

Reality is a short but incredibly impactful docudrama that will leave audiences exhausted. The movie’s unbearable tension oozes from the screen and seeps into the audience, all held together by the way Sydney Sweeney holds that tension and bears it. While Emily Davis earned wide acclaim for her portrayal as Winner in the stage play, the cinematic structure truly highlights the central performance, and it’s one for the ages. It’s a jaw-dropping performance that is sure to give her awards attention.

Sydney Sweeney’s Mesmerizing Performance

HBO Films

Sydney Sweeney jumps from the television success of Euphoria and The White Lotus to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance (even if this is technically a television film) as Reality Winner. Through her dialogue, body language, and facial expressions, her anxiety seeps through the screen, but also mesmerizes with a strange initial confidence.

Sweeney’s portrayal of Reality shies away from the stumbling and unsure words of the real Reality from the transcript, and instead attempts to play a coy and intelligent version, a decision that greatly pays off. Reality understands why the FBI are here, but she attempts to draw their suspicions away, which you can see in Sweeney’s performance. By the end, Sweeney’s confident characterization of Reality gives up and crumbles under the weight of her anxiety, beginning to tell the FBI the truth in some of the best and most impactful showcases of remorse and emotion of the past few years, and that’s all thanks to the acting powerhouse that is Sydney Sweeney.

The rest of the cast are equally great. Josh Hamilton delivers an engaging performance as a bubbling and friendly FBI agent who struggled to get his words out, and Marchánt Davis provided audiences with an intimidating performance of a more straightlaced FBI agent. Granted, the cast list isn’t particularly large, yet in a cast as small as this, each character manages to stand out. However, each performance is, almost by definition, outshone by the titular character.

Related: Sydney Sweeney’s 8 Best Performances, Ranked

Unbearably Tense Atmosphere

HBO Films

Perhaps one of the movie’s greatest strengths is that Tina Satter doesn’t perceive her audience as stupid, and whether you know the story or not, you will 100% believe that whatever crime Reality Winner committed which brought the attention of the FBI to her door, she is undoubtedly guilty (whether you think the action should be punishable is other story). Satter immediately builds up an unforgiving and intense atmosphere that never eases up. In fact, as the film progresses audiences will feel their heart rates rise.

Through the use of Paul Yee’s stunning yet unnerving cinematography, Nathan Micay’s heart-pounding music, and Tina Satter’s minimalist staging, Reality is one of the most tension-filled movies of the past year. Cinematographer Paul Yee (Joy Ride, The Stranger) is at his best, framing each scene in a way which enhances the movie’s suspense.

Yee gives Reality a sense of isolation and lack of authority by framing her as much smaller than the FBI agents, as well as mostly shooting Reality in a single frame which isolates her, especially in the interrogation scenes. Micay’s long-drawn-out musical score taps into your bloodstream, making audiences feel the same anxieties and suspense that Reality felt the very second she pulled up on her driveway.

Much like her stage play, Satter opts for a more minimalist setting, with the highlight being the aforementioned interrogation scene. This sees Reality and two interrogating police officers in a plain white room with nothing on the walls and very little light piercing through the windows. Just that basic description alone should get anyone tense, yet with all the film’s elements stacking together, Reality’s build up of uncomfortable anxiety is both admiring, yet deeply unbearable.

Reality is produced by HBO Films and Seaview Productions. It was released on Max May 29th, and will release globally in cinemas, June 2nd.

You can view the original article HERE.

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