Review of Reality (2023)

REALITY (2023) is a drama about NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner, played by actress Sydney Sweeney.

Here’s the premise: The FBI interviews and searches the home of a former American intelligence specialist suspected of releasing to the media unauthorized government information about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.

REALITY transported me back to my days in the Bureau.

REALITY takes place during one day. The movie’s dialogue and setting feel authentic and believable because they are. The actors’ words mimic the verbatim transcripts of the audio recorded during the actual FBI search, interview, and arrest of Reality Winner, capturing the verbal exchanges that unfolded between the FBI agents and their subject over several hours.

By the way, FBI agents may request authorization to covertly record non-custodial interviews, which is what I assume occurred during the actual event since they never show us or refer to the device used to record the interview.

When I was in the FBI, most interviews, adversarial or otherwise, were not recorded or videotaped. Agents are required to take copious notes and then write a narrative report known as an FD-302. Using transcription software sounds like a more manageable method to handle paperwork.

When it comes to FBI policy and procedural accuracy, the movie receives a top grade. Usually in a crime drama, there’s that scene where an FBI agent or police officer is interrogating a bad guy with his face inches away, as he shouts and screams threats to coerce a confession.

But for most face-to-face communications with subjects, agents rely on their charm and skills of persuasion—definitely not force—to convince subjects and witnesses to cooperate. That’s how the agents portrayed in the movie engage with Reality. You would think a scene where FBI agents speak to their subject with respect and empathy would be boring. However, the film, with the agents’ awkward attempts at humor and their unduly concern for Reality’s dog and cat, is clever and uniquely entertaining.

To learn more about successful interview techniques, listen to these FBI Retired Case File Review episodes:

245: Charlie Price – Artful Interviews, Confessions and Signed Statements
215: James Kyle – Interviewing Pedophiles, Conversation with Purpose
095: Eugene Casey – Terrorist Carlos The Jackal, Interview Strategies

REALITY is currently streaming on Max. Watch the official trailer here.

Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

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