Life & Culture

Reality review: An unlikely whistleblower

The story of the young US Air Force translator who received the longest prison sentence ever for the unauthorised release of government information


Cert: 12 | ★★★★★

In 2018, former US Air Force member and gifted NSA translator Reality Winner — unbelievably, it’s her real name — received the longest prison sentence ever imposed for the unauthorised release of government information to the media.

She was convicted of leaking an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential elections to the news website The Intercept.

A year earlier, after running some errands in town, she had been confronted by FBI agents at her front door. They told her they had a warrant to search her home and confiscated her phone.

Reality is the story of that confrontation and consequent interrogation, and Brooklyn playwright and award-winning filmmaker Tina Satter tells the tale with extraordinary realism.

All of the film’s dialogue is lifted from the FBI’s transcript, and as she navigates the questions, it soon becomes clear that Reality is your average, typical 20-something.

She dotes on her pets, loves to travel and enjoys shooting her guns at the range. Satter does a fantastic job in portraying her a whistleblower whose brave actions were motivated by her personal political allegiances.

She also captures the banality of events after Reality’s interrogation with clinical precision. There is real courage here in letting real-life events speak for themselves, and as the young woman is cajoled by the faux-chumminess of Josh Hamilton’s avuncular agent Garrick, there are moments so tense you could almost forget to breathe.

Euphoria and The White Lotus star Sydney Sweeney gives an impressively natural performance as Winner. In fact, she’s nothing short of a revelation. Often vacillating between wide-eyed innocence and deer-caught-in-the-headlights shock, she navigates a range of complex emotions with the expertise of a seasoned pro.

From worrying about the safety of her pets, to conversations about her fitness regime, she shows us how a mind can unravel.

And Satter also steers clear of the tired tropes one has almost come to expect in this stable.

And while realism underpins this truly extraordinary production throughout, there remains plenty of suspense, drama and unbridled angst.

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