United States vs. Reality Winner movie poster
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United States vs. Reality Winner
United States vs. Reality Winner movie poster

United States vs. Reality Winner Movie Review

In the sobering documentary United States vs. Reality Winner, filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck brings to the forefront two truths: that “Reality Winner” is someone’s actual name, and that the blurry line between heroic whistleblower and treasonous leaker is a treacherous one to cross for anyone who opposes the government.

Accused of espionage by the United States, the 25-year-old NSA contractor faces years behind bars for leaking a document about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to the press. The documentary has a clear point-of-view that whistleblowers should be more protected, if not honored, and attempts to drill home the fact that Reality Winner does not deserve the sentence she received. It relies heavily on emotional interviews with her family members and with Edward Snowden, who knows a thing or two about leaking government secrets and paying the price, to make its case.

For the most part the documentary does make a compelling if not quite powerful argument, pointing out the hypocrisy of it all while dismissing Reality Winner’s decision as an innocent, well-intentioned “of course she should have done it” no-brainer and criticizing the government’s actions as insidious. The answer is probably more in the middle; Reality Winner worked for the NSA and presumably knew, or should have known, what she was getting into even if going to the press was “the right thing to do.” Kennebeck takes an advocacy stance, which is fine, but the film falls just short of landing any knockout blows.

Nonetheless, United States vs. Reality Winner is a worthwhile documentary about government overreach and the threat citizens face when going against their country’s security apparatus.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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