Review: Insightful 'The Comey Rule' pits former FBI director against Donald Trump
Courtesy of Showtime
Much has been made about “The Comey Rule,” a two-night mini series chronicling the James Comey FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and his termination from the FBI following the election of Donald Trump. I say much has been made because there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the portrayal and characterization of Trump by the very Irish Brendan Gleeson. Instead of mocking the president and propping up his already cartoonish demeanor, writer/director Billy Ray will get credit for bringing the first dramatic performance of the 45th president to the small screen.
Gleeson is perfect for the role, and in profile looks uncanny, often upstaging Jeff Daniels who is tasked with bringing a sense of reliability to Comey and help audiences understand how difficult the tumultuous 2016 election cycle was. Some critics might suggest “The Comey Rule” is an exercise in flattery, not going after Comey hard enough for, essentially, sabotaging the election and swaying undecided voters away from Clinton. But I believe “The Comey Rule” to be an engaging and eye opening film that could, in this cycle, push voters away from Trump into the Joe Biden camp. That’s probably why it was pushed up from its 2021 launch to just before the November election to, at least, educate the public.
Though Trump’s presence is felt throughout “The Comey Rule” (he doesn’t actually show up until the second night) the film is primarily about the former FBI director, a rare public servant who managed to anger both political sides equally.
In that regard, “The Comey Rule” dramatizes the FBI’s deep dive into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email debacle, and the chatter of Russian interference with the 2016 election, allowing respectable actors ala Holly Hunter, Micheal Kelly, William Sadler, and Scoot McNairy to step into figures Sally Yates, Andrew McCabe, Michael Flynn and Rod Rosenstein respectively. The latter of which put the nail in the coffin of Comey’s tenure following pressure from Trump who was pissed the FBI director wouldn’t drop the Russia investigation despite credible intel.
But Ray tries to take Comey at his word, utilizing juicy moments from his 2018 memoir “A Higher Loyalty” to make up the best scenes of the film. However, those looking for vindication on whether or not Comey was the bad guy, be it destroying Clinton’s lead in the 2016 election or failing to do more on his intel with Trump’s connection with Russian interface, might find it. On the other hand, those looking for answers on these events might be pleasantly surprised at the things they find out.
What “The Comey Rule” seeks to do is provide context into the decisions Comey was forced to make, because no matter which option he chose, it was never going to be the right one. He’s a man of integrity, determined to deliver the truth and stay committed to his moral compass in whichever manner seems appropriate and if that involves hurting people, including his family, the precedent can’t be changed. In other words, the film presents the ultimate “What Would You Do?” scenario and I don’t think anyone will be jealous of Comey after watching this.
The split in storytelling modes doesn’t always mesh, the focus of the first night, which showcases Kingsley Ben-Adir as a young Barack Obama, seems honed in the celebration and tribute of men and women who devote themselves endlessly to the job; the second evening detours more into political comedy territory, featuring popular and name dropping comedians stepping into mockable roles in the president's cabinet. Though easy targets, it does undercut the integrity of the picture, showing, at times, a bias towards one party instead of maintaining a balance.
Trump is probably going to hate Gleeson’s take, that much is true, but the performance here is an accurate and truthful read on the current president in a sea of impressions that plague late night talk shows. Ray makes the careful and thoughtful consideration to not make Trump’s complexion too orange (as that’s the punchline of many jokes) or his hair flappy. This is as honest a portrayal that Trump could ask for with Gleeson nailing down every mannerism, squint, and deep inhale without the comic timing. In fact, it’s borderline terrifying how accurate his manipulation tactics are presented, and the Irish vet doesn’t push his performance or the accent.
Whichever way you slice it, hearing these names - especially if you stay current with the news - could trigger some tucked away emotions. Even though these events happened four or five years ago, the wounds are still prevalent and it almost feels like yesterday. There’s good and bad parts of the film (Comey’s wife, Patrice, played by Jennifer Ehle is so underwritten it hurts) that I can’t say for certain moves the needle in the political world, nor will it be the trailblazer Ray hopes it becomes. Everyone will be left to make their own assertions on the validity of the facts and determine which loyalty is worth fighting for.
The Comey Rule will air on Showtime as part of a two night event on September 27th and 28th at 9pm.