Reality Winner’s name still turns heads, though maybe not for the reasons she hoped. This former Air Force linguist grabbed headlines in 2017 when she leaked classified documents about Russian election interference. At 26, Winner received the longest prison sentence in American history for sharing state secrets with the media. Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.
Susanna Fogel’s new biopic tries to make sense of this enigmatic Texan whistleblower. Is Winner a principled heroine or a dangerous rogue? Emilia Jones tackles the role with aplomb, painting a complex portrait. We first meet a headstrong 9-year-old freeing puppies from their mall store cages. The seeds of civil disobedience take root early. As the timeline unfurls, family tensions bubble up between Reality and her conservative mother (Connie Britton) and sister (Kathryn Newton). Her firebrand dad (Zach Galifianakis) nurtures her dissident streak instead.
Layer by layer, Jones peels back the contradictions. She shows us Winner’s motivations as well as her flaws. There are ethical qualms about her military work and moments of hurtful stubbornness. But ultimately Fogel celebrates her protagonist’s willingness to fight the power whatever the personal cost. This film aims to put a human face on a woman demonized for following her convictions. The result makes for a sympathetic, if not fully realized, character study.
Painting Portrait of a Whistleblower
charts Reality’s journey from precocious child to polarizing public figure. We first encounter a fiery 9-year-old blond liberating puppies from their pet store cages, heedless of spoiling her sister’s birthday wish. The seeds of her activism take root early thanks to her eccentric writer dad Ronald (Zach Galifianakis). He nurtures his daughter’s sense of justice, even when it rocks the boat. Reality cares deeply about animal rights, but world events reshape her humanitarian zeal. After 9/11, determined to bridge divides with the Arab world, she teaches herself Arabic in high school. But she soon becomes disillusioned by the War on Terror, so Reality joins the military to make a difference herself. As a talented linguist, her translations enable drone strikes targeting America’s enemies abroad. The moral compromise eats at her.
Seeking escape, Reality later transfers to a cushy NSA gig back home in Texas. There she stumbles on proof that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 election, contrary to her bosses’ denials. Outraged by the cover-up, she leaks the smoking gun dossier to the media and instantly becomes a poster child for state secrets reform. But impulsive idealism carries consequences. Before long the Feds come knocking to make an example out of our rogue heroine.
An Imperfect Idealist
At its core, Winner grapples with what transforms an ordinary young Texan into a polarizing whistleblower. Reality Winner emerges as a principled heroine – smart, tough, big-hearted. But she’s no saint either. Her crusading instincts often hurt those close to her.
Filmmaker Susanna Fogel embraces these contradictions. She shows Reality’s desire to expose injustice colliding with her family’s more conservative politics. Her gadfly dad Ronald nurtures his daughter’s rebellious streak from an early age. Meanwhile, her social worker mom Billie urges more caution, and practical big sister Brittany rolls her eyes at Reality’s self-righteous grandstanding.
As she comes of age, Reality’s unflinching beliefs put her at odds with the institutions she serves. She joins the military to build bridges but soon feels complicit in perpetuating violence. Her NSA translation work feeds deadly drone strikes targeting faraway enemies. Steadfast loyalty to her convictions makes her intransigent to loved ones and impatient with society’s ethical compromises.
So when faced with evidence of her government’s dishonesty, Reality refuses to stay silent like her colleagues. She accepts personal risk to expose the truth about Russian election meddling because blind obedience betrays her ideals. By showing us the personality behind the headlines, Fogel aims to humanize an imperfect heroine marked more by swim-against-the-tide grit than glory. Reality Winner may be flawed, but her courage to dissent makes her a watchdog for American democracy.
Bringing a Rogue Idealist to Life
Director Susanna Fogel brings just the right blend of irreverent wit and empathetic storytelling to tackle Reality Winner’s subversive journey. This film relishes moments that shuffle our expectations. Case in point: a prominent anti-war activist takes meeting with military recruiters over college peace activists. Or consider a government translator moonlighting as a CrossFit fanatic who floods her downtime with animal rescue volunteering. This is no stereotypical portrait of a rabble-rouser.
Fogel keeps things fast-paced and fluid as we track Reality across the decades. Breezy montages set to pop songs chronicle her path from headstrong teen to disillusioned military linguist. Archival footage spotlights key public events shaping her outlook, from 9/11 to NSA revelations. The director also recreates Reality’s climactic FBI interrogation using verbatim transcripts. This avant-garde twist adds sobering authenticity.
Anchoring it all is leading lady Emilia Jones, a dynamo in the role. She captures Reality’s swagger and strength of conviction while hinting at personal demons lurking underneath. We get witty voiceovers laying out her philosophy but also vulnerable moments with her family. The film trains close focus on her face, underscoring internal struggles behind risky whistleblowing. Some critics argue Jones deserved deeper character excavation, but she makes the most of what she’s given.
By turns spunky and trenchant, Winner brings Reality Winner’s against-the-odds ideals to life with verve and playful candor. This ain’t your granddaddy’s war resister biopic.
When Ideals Collide With Reality
For a film about a daring whistleblower, Winner packs in more ethical nuance than expected. Several pivotal scenes showcase Reality Winner’s principles crashing hard against real-world obstacles. Take the early sequence where a headstrong teen Reality grills smarmy military recruiters. She confronts them about shameless romanticizing of service to meet enrollment quotas. The frank exchange exposes the first of many ideological compromises to come.
We also get quiet moments spotlighting the toll of Reality’s translation duties. As a talented linguist, she enables deadly drone strikes on terror targets by deciphering intercepted chatter. Implacable loyalty to her ethics makes collateral damage weigh heavily. Other revealing scenes show family friction arising from her whistleblowing. Her conservative mother and sister balk at the professional risk, while her rabble-rousing father beams with pride.
Of course, the gutsiest dramatic license involves the climax itself – the leaked document caper. Permitting a rare rule-breaking lapse in judgement, the cautious protagonist scans the explosive proof, stuffs hard copy into her pantyhose, and flees. The next day, the actual FBI interrogation transcripts lend chilling authenticity. We witness the full force of the national security apparatus crashing down on one well-meaning idealist.
The final payoff comes via glimpses of her prison stay – mundane, lonely, claustrophobic. Did her conviction withstand captivity? Winner suggests Reality Winner’s bumpy idealism survives intact even when confined by consequences. She accepts regrets as the price of courageous dissent.
An Imperfect Lens on an Imperfect Icon
In the end, Winner paints a lively but incomplete portrait of America’s most unlikely government whistleblower. This film wants us to marvel at Reality Winner’s courage while still relating to her flaws. Therein lies an impossible paradox. After all, normal well-adjusted people don’t leak classified documents and risk prison to expose uncomfortable truths.
Yet Susanna Fogel finds glimmers of sympathetic humanity amid Reality’s contradictions—a loving rescue volunteer who enables killing from a cubicle, an insubordinate idealist surrounded by institutional lies. The film falls short of reconciling these disjointed fragments into a coherent whole. But could anyone?
What we’re left with is an intriguing cultural artifact for an era dominated by ideological polarization. Winner admires Reality’s willingness to dissent yet acknowledges the collateral damage when righteousness tramples empathy. There are no easy answers here, no black and white binaries. Only messy shades of gray deserving thoughtful reflection.
Yes, faster pacing and grittier authenticity would bolster this film. But maybe a real-life iconoclast defies easy packaging. By resisting tidy narratives, Winner ultimately honors its complex subject in all her imperfections. For a new generation feeling disillusioned and outraged by the powers that be, this whistleblower underdog deserves her place as an inspiring if unlikely role model.
Winner paints a sympathetic yet unfinished portrait of Reality Winner's contradictions. This film wants us to relate to an impassioned whistleblower, flaws and all. The result offers glancing insights but struggles to reconcile its protagonist’s disjointed fragments into a coherent whole. Still, Emilia Jones shines in a story suited for our age of ideological polarization. In the end, Winner admires its heroine’s rebellious spirit while acknowledging the collateral damage. Its imperfections mirror Reality Winner’s own, making for an intriguing tribute to a complex underdog.
- Strong lead performance by Emilia Jones
- Sympathetic portrayal of Reality Winner
- Captures contradictions in the protagonist's personality
- Timely themes related to whistleblowing and dissent
- Creative use of real-life transcripts and archival footage
- Susanna Fogel brings irreverent yet thoughtful approach
- Uneven pacing and conventional biopic structure
- Could have dug deeper into Reality's psychology
- Skims over implications of Winner's actions
- Simplifies complex issues like national security and media
- Tonal imbalance between levity and serious moments