Brendan Gleeson and Jeff Daniels carry a heavy-handed recreation of the lead up to the 2016 election and Comey’s relationship with Trump, with mixed results.
The two-part miniseries recounts James Comey’s life from his nomination as FBI Director by President Obama to his relationship with President Trump after a disastrous 2016 election decision.
There are many moments of brilliance in ‘The Comey Rule.’ Yes, it is often cringe-inducing and quite obviously tries too hard to pander to a specific audience. Still, writer and director Billy Ray had a story in mind that worked as an outline, just maybe not developed by him. It quickly becomes apparent that Ray, whom I assume must be an avid political aficionado, gets too caught up with all the possible tools at his disposal. As a result, ‘Night One’ often feels messy, disjointed, and unfocused. Perhaps even more damning is the complete lack of subtlety throughout the series. With this, Ray ends up trying to portray Comey’s story with a Shakespearean angle filled with tragedy, melodrama, and downright silliness. Instead, it could have been heavily aided by some raw political honesty and ruthlessness that has helped other political shows (in particular, House of Cards). It’s not that his concept is doomed. It’s just that Comey is such a flawed individual with so many questionable choices that it’s hard to sympathize with him in such a subjective show which tries to paint him in a positive light. It is too often the case that ‘The Comey Rule’ feels too silly to take seriously at times. While I appreciate the commitment to making this show a political statement for the upcoming 2020 election, it does the series’ quality no favors.
As for redeeming qualities, ‘Night Two’ is much, much better than the first part. After spending nearly two hours in ‘Night One’ with very uncharismatic and dull personas with ridiculous moments, the presence of Brendan Gleeson’s Donald Trump injects the series with much energy and bite. Much of the first part’s self-seriousness is gone with the President’s menacing presence, and that’s a good thing: it begins to take a much more interesting perspective. Donald Trump is a hard character to portray. Because of this, Gleeson must be commended for taking it seriously and never falling into caricature territory. His Trump is menacing and unpredictable, and while Ray fails to go much deeper than that, it is enough for him to stand out. In particular, a dinner scene with Comey and Trump is one of the best I’ve seen this year, and the best to come out of the miniseries.
As for Jeff Daniels, whom we see the most in both “nights,” his quiet performance as Comey might be hard to warm up to. Still, Daniels does add much depth to a character who, as stated before, borders in “morally questionable.” Nevertheless, it’s by far the most developed character in the series. While I’m mixed if the message Ray was trying to put across regarding his actions worked, Daniels does the best he can with what he’s given.
In conclusion, ‘The Comey Rule’ is not nearly as good as it could have been, and the writing and directing can often be sloppy and uninspired. Still, despite its many issues, it stands out thanks to Jeff Daniels and, in particular, Brendan Gleeson’s chilling portrayal of Donald Trump.