Berlinale 2023 Highlights, Part Two: Reality, Manodrome, The Adults, Inside, Golda | Festivals & Awards

Luckily, another screening was added the next day, and I got a chance to experience Tina Satter’s extraordinary work. Derived from Satter’s play Is This A Room, the film stars Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner, the NSA and Air Force translator who leaked an intelligence report to The Intercept website detailing Russian interference in the election. Along with Marchánt Davis, Josh Hamilton, and an exquisite Benny Elledge, “Reality” is a tense, surreal, and at times bleakly funny look at the actual interrogation of Winner, the lines of dialogue derived entirely from the court transcripts and digital recordings.

The film easily could be stilted, but thanks to Satter’s cinematic sense and the circumstance’s claustrophobic nature, it never succumbs to the forced limitations of the stage. There are crosscuts to the actual transcriptions to remind us that even the banalest, awkward, or inadvertently funny moments are all part of the record, making for a dizzying mix of a dramatic recreation with a documentary-like precision. 

The actors bring the experience alive in ways that are sometimes quite astonishing, and Satter is playful with how she deals with redacted elements, dancing around the truths we know years after the fact, and filling in gaps when it makes sense to do so. I was reminded of the best of “Homicide: Life On the Streets,” where entire episodes would take place in “the box” and distill the power of a procedural drama down to its very core. With “Reality,” Satter grants us an equally effective moment of human interaction, detailing this unique historical moment that raises questions to this day about how the entire case was handled, how the publication protected its sources, and how one woman decided that the truth was more important than the lies. To see the film the very week that the Dominion Voting systems court records dump exposes the internal communications of those at Fox News makes the events of the film even more salient, and the fictionalized version may, in fact, prompt more discussion than the original leak ever did.

John Trengrove’s “Manodrome” takes the “Taxi Driver” motif and recontextualizes it for the rideshare generation. Jesse Eisenberg plays Ralphie, a young father-to-be who exudes quiet rage and inner conflict, and much of the film’s success relies entirely on his exceptional performance. He is physically transformed in this film, but it’s his ability to draw us into the complexity of his emotions that makes things work as well as they do.

The storyline of cult-like incel groups echoes the likes of Fight Club,” and for many, this may be a societal aspect not worth shedding light upon. Those considerations aside, what’s more frustrating is how the film doesn’t go far enough; when things start going truly awry, it’s as if it’s been made more palpable to audiences than to truly dive into the heart of the darkness of these individuals. The film is quite good, to be sure, and worthy of seeing if only for the fine lead performance, and Adrien Brody makes the most out of his underwritten part. But in the end, the storyline doesn’t quite coalesce, doesn’t quite live up to its bleak premise, and doesn’t quite thread the needle by having an appalling anti-hero that one can still spot the humanity within. It echoes other, better movies that pulled off this magic trick, yet while it’s not entirely a success, it’s still a film worth considering.

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