In the sobering documentation USA versus Reality WinnerFilmmaker Sonia Kennebeck brings two truths to the fore: “Reality Winner” is a person’s actual name, and the blurred line between heroic whistleblower and tell-tale leaker is a tell-tale line for anyone who opposes the government.
The 25-year-old NSA contractor, accused by the US of espionage, has been behind bars for years for publishing a document about Russia’s interference in the 2016 press elections. The documentary takes a clear stance that whistleblowers should be better protected, if not honored, and seeks to bring home the fact that Reality Winner doesn’t deserve the punishment it received. It relies heavily on emotional interviews with her family members and with Edward Snowden, who knows a thing or two about how to divulge government secrets and pay the price to stand his case.
For the most part, the documentary makes a compelling, if not entirely powerful, argument in pointing out the hypocrisy of the whole thing while dismissing Reality Winner’s decision as an innocent, well-intentioned “of course she should” and that criticizes government actions as insidious. The answer is probably more in the middle; Reality Winner worked for the NSA and knew or should have known what it was getting into, even if it was “the right thing” to go to the press. Kennebeck has an advocacy stance, which is fine, but the film is on the verge of landing knockout blows.
Yet, USA versus Reality Winner is a worthwhile documentary about the overreach of the government and the threat to which citizens are exposed when they crack down on the security apparatus of their country.
Rating by Erik Samdahl, unless otherwise stated.