One could call “Reality” bare bones, which would be accurate. Most of it occurs in one room, with three people talking. There are some interesting camera angles as the questioning gets more intense, but Satter’s approach generally allows the language to take center stage. There are a couple of “flashbacks,” but they’re brief: Reality is shown sitting at her desk at work, Fox News playing on all the television screens. No attempt is made to “open up” the story.
At first, the FBI agents display benign good-cop smiles. They just want to clear up some confusion; they have a couple of questions! They are dressed casually in khakis, Izods. They make small talk. The small talk is truly small: the weather, her groceries, her pets; she mentions lifting weights and getting ready for a competition. Some of this even feels like casual banter. Reality’s concern for the well-being of her pets is not brushed off. The agents try to assuage her concerns, although they make alarmed moves when she tries to walk toward her dog or the front door. She notices these things, their control of her movements, but remains cooperative. She is never hostile.
There are times when Satter cuts to a blank screen, with the words being said by Reality and the agents unfurling out in transcript form, underlying the word-for-word nature of the script: false starts, awkward bumbling phrases, and almost dull language. Nobody is eloquent. It’s fascinating to listen to because this is how people talk, and it’s as close as possible to how it all went down.
The redactions in the transcript are personalized and visualized in almost supernatural flashes, glitches in the Matrix, adding to the eerie feeling of a gigantic monolithic government crouched in the corner of that bare dirty room in a small house in Georgia. Everything seems real, but the tension pushes it into an almost surreal and experimental space. (Satter runs with this in a hallucinatory section where the all-male FBI team laughs at Reality’s expense.)
Sweeney, known from “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus,” might seem like a counter-intuitive casting choice, but Satter knows what she’s doing, and so does Sweeney. Sweeney plays Reality simply and unfussily. She doesn’t “play” her innocence; she doesn’t indicate Reality’s inner knowledge. There are no outbursts or impassioned political speeches. She doesn’t fall apart. When the reveal comes, as of course it does, it feels organic as opposed to dramatized. Reality did what she did for a reason; she doesn’t feel bad about it, knows she will be punished, and is ready to take her punishment. Played in a room with brutal fluorescent lighting, and no clever tricks or soundtrack or ambiance to hide behind, Sweeney gives a very impressive performance, perfectly modulated and crescendoed.