The Comey Rule
Picture: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS Tv
It begins, as these items typically do, with a late-night talk-show monologue. Jay Leno did them so typically that there’s a two-minute supercut of characters watching him speak about what’s taking place within the film. Right here it’s Stephen Colbert in a 2017 monologue, likening James Comey, the previous FBI director, to the Harry Potter character Severus Snape. “First, he looks like man. Then, he looks like a nasty man. Then it looks like he sacrificed himself to save lots of different individuals.” He provides, “Are we going to seek out out he beloved us all alongside?”
That is how up to date political docudramas are inclined to work, and it’s a motive why a lot of them are so horrible. You see the identical system at work in theatrical films like The American President or W., or cable films like Recount or Recreation Change, or in miniseries just like the latest Showtime seven-parter about Roger Ailes, The Loudest Voice: Large stars and recognizable character actors lining as much as do imitations of political actors, clips from late-night monologues or pundit-stocked cable packages to dump exposition or register typical knowledge, and a normal tick-tock of occasions which are wholly acquainted to the cognoscenti and largely acquainted to everybody else.
In its worst moments, The Comey Rule does little to differentiate itself from the dreary slush pile of different docudramas based mostly on true occasions or books — on this case, Comey’s 2018 memoir A Greater Loyalty. And but the sequence’s seasoned writer-director, Billy Ray, has a journalistic fashion that provides extra shading to real-life characters than anticipated. Ray’s directorial debut, 2003’s Shattered Glass, drew extraordinary rigidity and suspense from the connection between the disgraced New Republic fabulist Stephen Glass and his editor, Charles Lane, and his latest script for Richard Jewell framed the downfall of the wrongly accused 1996 Olympic bomber as a narrative of crushing disillusionment. It’s not sufficient merely to dramatize the information like a Saturday Evening Stay sketch with out jokes, however to have some form of tackle it.
In that, The Comey Rule is intermittently profitable. There’s an thought in journalism circles that when either side are offended a few piece, the reporter have to be doing one thing proper. That form of bothsides-ism is usually nonsense — telling the reality is extra vital than political triangulation — however Ray is decided to string the needle on Comey, a person who got here to be hated by Democrats and Republicans alike. With out minimizing the narcissism that underscores Comey’s above-it-all righteousness, Ray makes the plain however vital level that the previous FBI director’s involvement within the Hillary Clinton e mail investigation and the Trump-Russia investigation was a lose-lose state of affairs. He was all the time going to splash gasoline on these fires; it was only a matter of how a lot.
The primary half of The Comey Rule covers the interval main as much as Donald Trump getting elected president in 2016. (In truth, Brendan Gleeson’s Trump, who will determine prominently on tomorrow night time’s conclusion, doesn’t say a phrase right here.) In an ingenious framing system, the story is advised by way of the jaundiced perspective of Rod Rosenstein, the previous U.S. Deputy Lawyer Basic, performed right here by the always-wonderful Scoot McNairy. This Rosenstein is solid as a savvy political operator, a profession public servant who’s good at maintaining his head down and avoiding partisan ire. Comey was the tsunami that ultimately swept him out to sea, and there was nothing he might do about it.
Then once more, there’s not a lot Comey might have completed to change his destiny, both. After accepting the place to succeed Robert Mueller as FBI director — from Kingsley Ben-Adir’s conspicuously younger Barack Obama — Comey settles into the job as a cornpone idealist, believing the FBI to be an unsullied establishment for justice. Earlier than giving him the job, Obama asks if he’s the kind of man who wants a number of consideration. “It’s not an enormous driver for me,” he lies. Consideration is one thing he craves from Day One, together with his ostentatious appeals to the rank-and-file, although The Comey Rule argues that he was going to get consideration whether or not he wanted it or not. The query is whether or not placing himself out entrance was an act of self-sacrifice and private accountability or merely egotism.
The lengthy fuse on Comey’s tenure on the FBI is lit on June 10, 2015, when Andrew McCabe (Michael Kelly) stops by his workplace with an Inspector Basic referral on Hillary Clinton’s emails. The query for the FBI is whether or not Clinton’s use of a personal e mail server for official enterprise as secretary of State violated federal regulation. “You realize you’re screwed, proper?” Comey is warned. “I don’t see a optimistic end result right here it doesn’t matter what we discover.” Comey doesn’t appear to simply accept that inevitability, however he does really feel like “Operation Midyear Examination,” because the investigation is dubbed, have to be “letter-perfect” in figuring out whether or not Clinton knowingly broke the regulation in mishandling categorized info or deleting emails related to the Home inquiry into Benghazi.
The FBI’s dedication is that she was responsible of poor judgment, however not of corruption. And it needed to make that dedication twice: As soon as when Midyear Examination was completed poring by way of her many units and once more, shortly earlier than the election, when Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer, seized after he was nabbed allegedly sending sexually specific texts to a 15-year-old lady, was discovered to comprise emails from Weiner’s spouse Huma Abedin, who was serving as vice chair of Clinton’s marketing campaign. In each instances, Comey put himself entrance and heart, and in each instances, he was closely criticized by Democrats for harming Clinton on the polls. It shouldn’t have been tough for Clinton to argue that she was extra reliable than a candidate with a historical past of shady monetary dealings and sexual assault, however Comey’s actions helped create a false equivalency on the difficulty of corruption. Within the aftermath of the election, the Clinton marketing campaign blamed its surprising loss straight on Comey’s reopening of the e-mail investigation.
The Comey Rule credibly represents Comey’s decision-making course of, even whereas suggesting that he persistently selected the mistaken path. (In technique conferences, the FBI attorneys performed by Amy Seimetz and Steve Zissis provide the most effective counsel — and are respectfully overruled.) The notorious tarmac assembly between Obama’s legal professional normal Loretta Lynch (Michael Hyatt) and Invoice Clinton convinces him to not seem alongside her or Sally Yates (Holly Hunter), for concern of their connection to the Clintons. So the primary ending of Midyear Examination turns into a minor fiasco, with Comey trying to sound honest and balanced by chiding Hillary Clinton like a schoolmarm earlier than exonerating her. Worse nonetheless is his notorious letter reopening the case after Weiner’s arrest, which violates the company’s steerage about taking motion near an election.
Casting Jeff Daniels as Comey is a small masterstroke, as a result of Comey is sort of a extra sinister model of the crusading anchor Daniels performed in The Newsroom, animated by the identical ethical certainty, however not as clearly in the correct. What’s paramount to this Comey is that he be understood as a person of honor and integrity and that the FBI as an establishment get pleasure from the identical fame, which isn’t the identical factor as displaying common sense. It appears doubtless that anybody presiding over the Clinton emails and the Trump-Russia investigation couldn’t save the FBI from prices of partisanship. Even Bob Mueller, the very mannequin of the straight-shooter-respected-by-all-sides sort, wouldn’t emerge from this mess with that picture intact.
“Evening One” permits Comey’s spouse Patrice (Jennifer Ehle) to channel the majority of the frustration in him. The Comeys each know the hazards of a Trump presidency, and the message it’d ship to their 4 daughters, however Patrice can’t speak him out of placing his thumb on the size. Comey can pay the value on tomorrow night time’s episode, after all, when the Russia investigation begins to select up steam and Trump inevitably sours on him. The scenes associated to that aspect of Comey’s story are a number of the worst on this half — e.g., a primary assembly between Michael Flynn and Vladimir Putin that guarantees a gala hosted through satellite tv for pc by Julian Assange, with Jill Stein at his desk — however Ray’s tackle the e-mail investigation is usually sound, even when the dialogue is just too laden with exposition and pundit-speak.
James Comey got here out of this mess cleanly. That left his colleagues — and the nation — holding the mop.
• The scenes involving “lovers” Peter Strzok (Steven Pasquale) and Lisa Web page (Oona Chaplin) are so ludicrous they appear tailored from Trump’s Twitter feed. The combo of political conspiracy and pillow speak is comically on-the-nose and notably merciless to Web page, who’s seen as a lady who’s brazen in her opinions and her sexuality. That occurs to be the identical downside that plagued Ray’s screenplay for Richard Jewell, which was rightly criticized for tarring Kathy Scruggs, a now-deceased journalist, as a runaway sexpot who slept with sources to get info.
The character of Justin, a younger Black man who works within the Division of Justice, seems to exist solely to be a soundboard for characters like Rosenstein and Yates. Possibly his function will get extra vital within the second half, however for now it’s solely disposable.
• The scene the place Comey refuses to chop the road on the FBI cafeteria establishes his character properly. He’s the kind of man who needs to challenge a man-of-the-people picture whereas ensuring everyone seems to be conscious that he’s projecting a man-of-the-people picture. He’s ostentatiously humble.
• McCabe additionally will get a Trump-Twitter-feed-level evaluation, courtesy of former FBI deputy director Mark Giuliano on his method out the door. “This can be a lunchpail tradition,” he tells McCabe. “Driving a blue Porsche sporting matching blue cufflinks is probably not the most effective message so that you can ship.”
• Together with a scene within the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub capturing is a approach to emphasize that Comey had different issues to are inclined to as director, however it’s not value witnessing the carnage for that time.
• “If he’d simply been a bit of humbler, rather less sure that his morality is all that mattered, the world wouldn’t know my identify immediately.” Should you’re on the lookout for a thesis, Rosenstein affords one right here.
The Comey Rule Recap: Lose-Lose