But in other ways it is, of course, completely different from that, or any other conventionally fictionalised and scripted drama. Reality’s cool, unemphasised and unsignposted dialogue goes completely against what we expect from a movie’s usual direction and editing: hitting significant dramatic beats, making important things obvious and (to quote the remark sometimes attributed to Billy Wilder) making the subtleties obvious as well.
However, Satter does occasionally undercut her rhetoric of reality: when the transcript is unclear or redacted, Winner’s image will flicker or briefly vanish – another uncanny touch. Meanwhile the behavior of the officers themselves is thrillingly deadpan: Garrick takes the lead with questioning – is he going to turn nasty any moment, or be revealed as the “good cop” to his partner’s tougher persona? That’s not this film’s style.
Sweeney’s performance has a superb micro-calibration as she plays it calm and noncommittal, not wanting to concede that she knows exactly why they’re there, and the two officers match this by playing dumb themselves – at least at first – and not revealing their hand. Is Winner a very cool customer, or in very deep shock? This, the film says, is what it really feels like to be on the receiving end of the law in a case like this: a calm, professional, technocratic but relentless display of overwhelming power.
But the film also asks us: is this, in fact, reality? Or is it not rather another form of fictional imposture? Is the room-temperature style of verbatim cinema an artefact that might not fully acknowledge the growing terror? Either way, it is a brilliant piece of work.