an unsettled white blonde woman stands outside with blurry FBI agents in the background
Credit: HBO

In 2017, the FBI raided a nondescript suburban Georgia house rented by NSA translator Reality Leigh Winner. In 2018, Winner was given a five-year jail sentence, the longest ever for releasing unauthorized government documents. Reacting to a toxic work environment in which Fox News blared on TVs in the office nonstop and all her complaints were ignored, Winner smuggled out a classified report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and mailed it to The Intercept. She did this as a patriotic act, believing she was helping protect the country she loved and devoted her life to serving.

Neither a biopic nor a documentary, Tina Satter’s profoundly unsettling dramatic re-creation of the interrogation at Winner’s modest home uses only passages from FBI recordings for dialogue. This is a common technique in throwaway true-crime shows, usually interspersed with talking-head interviews, live footage, infographics, and the like. But here, shorn of flashy distractions or prurient speculation, with a talented cast headed by Sydney Sweeney in an unnerving turn as Winner, the fumbling, good cop-bad cop repartee and their quarry’s deadpan cooperation make for a truly chilling picture.

Eschewing voice-over or much contextualization, we’re left watching a parade of sometimes intimidating, other times mocking men stomp in and around a small young woman’s domicile, repeatedly looming over her and otherwise invading and disrespecting her physical and emotional space. By presenting testimony without editorializing, the film becomes a searing indictment of a country that routinely punishes low-level true believers while rewarding traitors and opportunists up the food chain for their treachery. This movie made me ashamed to live here. TV-MA, 83 min.