Written and Directed by Billy Ray
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Brendan Gleeson, Holly Hunter, Jennifer Ehle, Scoot McNairy, Amy Seimetz, Steven Pasquale, Brian D’arcy Smith, Michael Kelly, Oona Chaplin
Where Donald Trump was a spectre hanging over the events depicted in the first two hours of The Comey Rule, Brendan Gleeson’s performance as the current US President comes more to the forefront as Jeff Daniels’ stoic performance as Comey and the rest of his FBI colleagues are confronted with a different type of political leader and administration than they’ve ever come face to face with previously, and portrays it as an increasing nightmare of dark proportions.
While the first two hours of Billy Ray’s political drama was knee deep in FBI investigations that ran the gamut of e-mail servers, Russian interference and references to ‘golden showers’, the second part sees Comey, like the rest of the world, confronted with a President that is a world away from the informed intelligence of Obama and one without any boundaries when it comes to rules and due process.
Even if subtlety wasn’t high on the agenda, the first two hours of The Comey Rule still functioned as a well made political drama about current events. The potential problem with this second half is the possibility that these second two hours could fall into the realm of a not particularly funny SNL sketch that the first half avoided because a person like Trump is so easily open to being parodied or stereotyped.
Gleeson’s performance is admittedly wonderful, but at first it does feel as if we’re simply watching the one time Mad Eye Moody doing a well crafted Trump impression. Vocally it doesn’t quite fit at first, but as the episode continues the line between real life and the production here starts to blend, and Ray’s script, which starts off as if it’s going to simply rely on having the audience enjoy a gifted actor doing an impression with all the vocal tics and child like blunders, eventually gives way to a disturbing manchild who has no idea that what he’s doing, before having us and the audience remember that none of this is a joke, and honestly never has been.
While taking its cue from Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, one is left to wonder if so much of the dialogue here happened in such a way as depicted or if it’s simply just hindsight being a wonderful thing. Characters talk about events that will happen over the next four years as if they are all of a sudden clairvoyant about future events, and while some of it can be a little heavy handed, it’s also a dark reminder of just what the last four years have been like (it makes for a sobering double bill with the recent BBC documentary The Trump Show).
The scenes between Comey and Trump crackle with an interesting intensity as the straight-laced FBI director finds himself confronted with a type of populist conservative Republican that Comey is unprepared for. Trump’s brand of showmanship, use of empty headed superlatives, yet childish ability to turn on a dime by referring to those around him either as ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ is filtered through Daniels’ portrayal of someone confronted with a type of ‘politician’ that goes against his own set of neutral political professionalism and whose conversations with the newly elected President behind closed doors, ones that he shouldn’t legally be having (a line that’s repeated frequently throughout these two hours), lead to him taking notes on everything that is said. It makes for darkly entertaining viewing because it reminds one of just how schizophrenic American politics has become in the last four years because it has a figured like Trump in charge of it all.
If Comey and the FBI are a calm centre trying to maintain order even when they’re up against someone who will end up viewing them in an antagonistic way, then the Trump camp is almost stereotypically portrayed as idiots who have no idea what they are doing. It’s here that the wheels sometimes threaten to comes off in The Comey Rule. We know how disorganised the administration is just from watching the nightly news and the amounts of firings of key figures there have been, but Ray’s writing confronts not just Comey but Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Sally Yates with key Trump staffers who are either stupid, incompetent or both and it’s Hunter’s face as she is confronted by both these things when talking to a key White House Counsel that is one of The Comey Rule’s best scenes.
Even Scoot McNairy’s characterisation of Rod Rosenstein is confronted with inelegant ethics as he is forced into firing Comey, who then finds out he has been released from his position when giving a speech at the FBI’s LA office via a ‘Breaking News’ bulletin on CNN. All of a sudden the borderline comedy of Gleeson’s performance becomes less funny and more genuinely disturbing as the impression of the mannerisms, the amazement at the White House cutlery and his attempts at making Comey his new best friend (moments of which crackle with a really uncomfortable energy that straddles the line between funny and terrifying) gives way to someone who hovers over Rosenstein in a manner more befitting a horror movie monster.
As The Comey Rule wraps itself up at the end with Comey and his wife in a better place than the place we left them at the end of the first two hours, the final moments outlying that there is a belief that Russia is believed to be trying to influence the 2020 election (which at the time of writing is only a week away) is a sobering moment that reminds the audience that so much of what is depicted here is still ongoing, that real life is still a sequel to the events here that has yet to end, and which might still be four years away from actually reaching a conclusion.
It’s a sobering notion that leaves a distressing taste in the mouth.
The Comey Rule is available to watch on Showtime in the U.S and Sky Box Sets and Now TV in the U.K.