'Actuality' overview: Sydney Sweeney thrills as a real-life whistleblower

The sentiment “much less is extra” has by no means been fairly so true — or as rewarding — as it’s in HBO’s Actuality. All director Tina Satter wants is three actors, a abandoned room, and some seemingly pleasant conversations to conjure a looming sense of dread.

On the heart of Actuality is Actuality Leigh Winner, the previous Nationwide Safety Company translator who leaked categorised paperwork to The Intercept regarding Russia’s interference within the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The FBI arrested her in 2017 following an interrogation at her residence in Augusta, Georgia. Satter then used the interrogation’s transcript to plot and stage her play Is This A Room(opens in a brand new tab), upon which Actuality is predicated.


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Although Actuality takes its identify from its central character, who’s portrayed by Sydney Sweeney, it additionally goes to nice lengths to remind us that that it’s a true story. Like in Is This A Room, all of Actuality‘s dialogue is lifted verbatim from the unique FBI transcript of Actuality’s interrogation, in addition to any sound cues or pauses by the audio system. If it is on the web page, it is on display, lending Actuality a frighteningly genuine really feel. That authenticity, mixed with Actuality‘s intimate scope and Sweeney’s distinctive efficiency, makes for a unprecedented thriller that mines boatloads of pressure from its personal sparseness.

Actuality advantages from its distinctive supply materials.

Two men in a totally empty spare room.

Marchánt Davis and Josh Hamilton in “Actuality.”
Credit score: Courtesy of HBO

Actuality opens in deceptively mundane trend: Actuality sits in a bland workplace cubicle, typing away at one thing we won’t fairly see. Nevertheless, there’s an undercurrent of pressure to the scene, as Fox Information experiences about President Donald Trump firing FBI director James Comey play on screens within the background.

Weeks later, we watch as Actuality drives residence from the grocery retailer, solely to be approached by two males in her yard. They’re Agent Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Agent Taylor (Marchánt Davis) of the FBI, they usually have a warrant to look her home.

Identical to within the opening scene, the next dialog seems outwardly innocent however veils one thing much more threatening. Garrick and Taylor ask Actuality about her pets and label themselves as canine individuals, all whereas gesturing for extra brokers to enter her home. They permit her to place her groceries away whereas below the scrutiny of silent males. They’re simply as prone to ask Actuality about her Crossfit and yoga lessons as they’re to inquire whether or not she has any weapons in the home. (She does.)


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For many of Actuality‘s first third, all we get is that this seemingly banal dialogue — once more, taken in its entirety from the precise FBI transcript. To hammer residence the movie’s dedication to its supply materials, Actuality typically splices in footage of an audio recording of the dialogue we’re listening to or the sound of the transcript itself being typed. Satter by no means desires you to neglect the place this story comes from and the place it can finish, lending Actuality a very distressing high quality. The playwright-turned-filmmaker ups the misery much more along with her path, which by no means positions Actuality in a spot of management; she’s nearly at all times surrounded and dwarfed by brokers a lot bigger than her. In a single shot, she stands in entrance of an empty road, just for black SUVs to drive into body not lengthy after and field her in. Due to moments like these, there is a tangible sense that the partitions are closing in round her.

Issues get much more claustrophobic when Garrick and Taylor take Actuality to a spare room in her home for questioning. They start to interrogate her about probably mishandling categorised info, and it is not lengthy earlier than Actuality, so cooperative all through a lot of the course of, begins to waver.

Sydney Sweeney cements her star standing in Actuality.

A young woman in a white button-up shirt on her front lawn with two FBI agents in the background.

Sydney Sweeney in “Actuality.”
Credit score: Courtesy of HBO

Sweeney has already confirmed herself an actor to look at, because of her Emmy-nominated roles in Euphoria and Season 1 of The White Lotus. In these reveals, she’s a standout member of a bigger ensemble. Right here, she will get a considerable main position to dig into, and he or she doesn’t disappoint. Sweeney surfaces all of Actuality’s anxieties and vulnerabilities all through the interrogation, even erupting in anger in direction of the top about how individuals ought to be listening to concerning the Russian interference. Even in these heightened moments, Sweeney stays splendidly grounded, by no means dropping sight of the movie’s realism.

Her foils, Hamilton and Davis, complement Sweeney’s efficiency tremendously. The 2 are simply as adept as Sweeney at sustaining the sensible patter of Actuality‘s dialogue, they usually every imbue their work with simply the correct amount of menace. Positive, Brokers Garrick and Taylor current themselves as good guys, however their line of questioning is sufficient to make cowl your eyes.

For essentially the most half, Actuality is a chamber piece between three individuals, confined to Actuality’s spare room — a totally empty area devoid of any furnishings in any way. But the restricted area doesn’t cease the movie from reaching pressure ranges one may affiliate with extra lurid fare. As Garrick and Taylor chip away at an more and more uncomfortable Actuality, you may end up wincing at her responses simply as you’d wince at characters in a horror film suggesting they cut up up. These suspenseful qualities solely construct on themselves the tighter its scope will get, a testomony to Satter and her crew’s immaculate set-up within the movie’s first act. Actuality grips you tight right through, thriving not regardless of its constraints however due to them.

Actuality premieres Could 29 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.(opens in a brand new tab)