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The HBO docudrama Reality, starring Sydney Sweeney as an NSA whistleblower, is a must-see movie

Published May 30th, 2023 2:58PM EDT
Reality on HBO
Image: HBO

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If you’re looking for an HBO title to get absorbed in next — now that we’ve said goodbye to two of the greatest TV shows of all time, Succession and Barry — perhaps a dose of Reality is in order.

Now available to stream on HBO’s newly rechristened Max service, Reality is a docudrama and adaptation of Tina Satter’s 2019 play Is This a Room about Reality Winner. Played here with impressive chops by Sydney Sweeney, Winner is an ex-NSA translator who was arrested in 2017 at age 25 and imprisoned for leaking a classified document (about Russian interference in the 2016 election).

Making the movie’s timing particularly noteworthy is the fact that, while the Trump administration charged Winner under the Espionage Act, Trump himself now finds himself staring down the barrel of potential charges related to classified documents found to have been improperly handled at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

As for Sweeney, she easily commands your attention throughout the 80-minute Reality, portraying the young woman as increasingly sinking under the weight of a grave secret and looking exceedingly small in relation to the FBI agents who interrogated her.

My favorite thing about the movie, though, is its fidelity to what happened to her via its use of Winner’s interrogation transcript, verbatim, as the basis of the movie’s dialogue.

Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis play the FBI agents who interrogate her with menace and perspicacity. They help to bring a sense of claustrophobia to the proceedings in Reality, which debuted earlier this year at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival.

That is to say: There’s not a lot that “happens” in this movie, beyond the characters talking to each other. But the actors excel so much at saying a lot by not always saying what they really mean, that you can’t bring yourself to look away even if you wanted to.

“What I did when I broke the law was a political act at a very politically charged time,” Winner, now in her 30s, told NBC News last year from her home near Corpus Christi, Texas. HBO’s new movie is a dramatization of that act, and of the truth and lies surrounding it, perpetrated by a woman whose literal name is Reality.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.