Directed by Tina Satter | Written by Satter and James Paul Dallas, based on the play Is This A Room by Satter | 83 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Crave
In June 2017, the Georgia suburban home of an American former US Air Force member and NSA translator named, believe it or not, Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney), was the subject of an FBI search warrant. Agents searched her house, car, and phone, and interrogated her. This film, based on a play, is excerpted from the actual on-the-day transcript of a recording of said interrogation, which largely took place in Winner’s extra room.
Except the first half hour or so of this less-than-90-minute movie is taken up with a whole lot of awkward conversation. Winner comes home from the grocery store and is stopped in her driveway by two FBI agents, Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchánt Davis), who explain to her they’ve got the warrant and what’s going to happen — while also not advising her she may need a lawyer, or of any of her rights.
They don’t let her into the house at first except to get her dog, so this first third of the film is all about hanging around on the lawn. Cue more than one odd and inappropriate comment from the law enforcement dudes.
It’s an interesting choice. Satter’s picture is exploring power dynamics, both the micro and the macro, and this extended set-up suggests a lot about what people do to establish power and control. For example, we learn Reality has at least three guns in the house, which seems to establish a level playing field with the agents. At least one is impressed and makes that clear to her. They’re from the same world.
Things change when they get her into the home and start asking questions about her security clearance and her job. She works in an office where Fox News is played around the clock and we start to understand the kinds of pressures she’s under and what she may, or may not have, done.
Satter does a good job of slipping us into the whirlpool of this situation, regularly reminding us what we’re watching is based in an actual event with Tweets and RL photos of Reality in her day-to-day life. As the conversation leans into classified information, the film glitches to obscure those details — Reality literally distorts — but instead of being taken out of the drama, we’re reminded of its real-world inspiration and application. As it begins to dawn on her the trouble she’s in, so it dawns on us, too, and the film’s political sympathies become a lot clearer. Reality’s pets, restrained and caged, become her avatars.
Formally, this is an experiment that could’ve easily been too dry or processy, but due to terrific work by all the actors, Sweeney especially, it’s largely a success. At times the American-ness of its frame does deny those of us watching outside its borders a visceral connection, and the film’s definitive painting of Winner as heroic, or even just accidentally heroic, could make for compelling post-screening debate. Fill your boots, it’s worth having.