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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Photograph: Vertigo Releasing

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

‘The White Lotus’s Sydney Sweeney excels in a whistleblower thriller that will leave your palms sweaty

If someone transcribed a conversation you had with your plumber about a leak in one of your pipes, and Tina Satter made a film based on that conversation, chances are the results would be so gripping you’d have to check your seat for a damp patch when you left the cinema.  

Satter is the award-winning playwright and theatre director who staged a play called ‘Is This a Room?’ in 2020. It was a word-for-word recreation of the June 2017 interrogation of US whistleblower Reality Winner, who received the longest prison sentence ever imposed for leaking government secrets – about potential Russian interference in the 2016 election – to the media. With no formal film training, Satter has crafted a claustrophobic thriller packed with such nail-biting tension there should be an emergency manicurist waiting outside each cinema.

Sydney Sweeney, Emmy-nominated for The White Lotus and Euphoria, is riveting as the eponymous 25-year-old NSA translator, who returns from a yoga session to find FBI agents waiting at her home. Two interrogators (Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis) question Winner in an empty spare room (hence the stage play’s title), determined to expose her as the government operative who found something on the NSA’s secure intranet and mailed it to independent media outlet The Intercept. Did she do it? And if so, why?

It’s so nail-biting, there should be an emergency manicurist waiting outside every cinema

Knowing the outcome does little to dissipate the relentlessly ratcheted tension of what follows, or diminish the power of the performances. Hamilton and Davis are both superb; creepily reptilian and smoothly sinister respectively, but this is Sweeney’s film. Although the surface of her face is mostly calm, somewhere a seismologist’s needle is going off the scale as Satter and cinematographer Paul Yee capture her internal state of controlled panic in merciless close-ups, often direct to camera. 

This is one of several stylistic flourishes – such as the flashes of colour in place of redacted elements of the transcript, or audio waveforms of the interrogation – that aren’t possible in live theatre, and they speak volumes about Satter’s future potential as a filmmaker. Assuming, that is, that she can find source material as incendiary as this.

In UK cinemas Jun 2. Streaming on HBO Max in the US May 29

David Hughes
Written by
David Hughes

Cast and crew

  • Director:Tina Satter
  • Screenwriter:Tina Satter, James Paul Dallas
  • Cast:
    • Marchánt Davis
    • Josh Hamilton
    • Sydney Sweeney
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