The Comey Rule
Creator: Billy Ray
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kelly, Jennifer Ehle, Holly Hunter
It’s so unfair that the Americans get to watch Brendan Gleeson playing Donald Trump in a trickily timed show just ahead of their elections, and we had to settle for Vivek Oberoi as Narendra Modi after ours. Interestingly, both The Comey Rule, the two-part political drama in which Gleeson so sinisterly plays the US president, and Oberoi’s laughably bad PM Narendra Modi biopic, were involved in a bit of a fiasco concerning their release dates.
While The Comey Rule, initially given a premiere slot after the US presidential elections in November, was brought forward to September after writer-director Billy Ray protested, the Modi biopic, which was expected to be a campaign tool, was rightly delayed until after the 2019 Indian general elections.
The change in release date made no difference then, but it’s clear that everyone involved in The Comey Rule hopes that the miniseries could, in some manner, have an impact on voters ahead of the 2020 elections.
Watch The Comey Rule trailer here
The man it whitewashes — former FBI director James Comey, played by Jeff Daniels — certainly knows a thing or two about influencing elections, and therefore, the course of world history. In 2016, just days ahead of the polls, Comey made the controversial decision to initiate an investigation into presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s emails.
He did this knowingly, despite several of his top advisors (and not to mention his own family) telling him otherwise. The contents of the emails were never the issue, but the optics of a presidential candidate being investigated by the FBI sent a message to the voters — that the candidate might be dishonest. The timing of the probe was what killed the Clinton campaign, the show surmises in hindsight. If it had been pushed by a fortnight — the option was on the table — the results could have been different.
In a bizarre scene just before Comey makes the all-important decision, his wife tells him to look the other way, and consider what a Trump victory could mean for their daughters. The series never lets you forget just how monumental Comey’s call was. “What if this leads to the election of Donald Trump as the president?” one character hisses. “This is explosive!” declares another, almost as if they knew that a show would eventually be made about them.
And then, when Trump, to everyone’s surprise (including his own), won, Comey became the punching bag. The Democrats felt that he was in bed with the Republicans, and the new president, with more skeletons in his closet than you’d find six feet underground at Arlington Cemetery, was convinced that he could be used as a pawn.
All this builds to the show’s most riveting scene, a meeting between Comey and Trump at the White House, where the newly elected president, over shrimp cocktail and vanilla ice cream, asks for the FBI director’s loyalty. It’s the centrepiece of the show; a crescendo of sorts before the house of cards comes tumbling down. Billy Ray, a veteran of political dramas, directs with an almost Clint Eastwood-like plainness. He lets his actors do the heavy lifting.
And what a treat they are to watch. Neither is doing an impression. It’s like they’re men possessed. Gleeson, the rugged contours of whose face are regularly shot in tight close-ups, is unnerving as Trump. He does this thing with his mouth — a quiet sucking sound — that I’ve never noticed the real Trump do, but must have been something that the actor picked up on. It’s a showy performance, for sure, but Trump’s a showboat if there ever was one.
He’s barely in the first episode, skulking in the shadows like a Bond villain, surrounded by vile henchmen, and grotesque — both physically and psychologically.
But Daniels, on the other hand, delivers a mostly internalised performance as Comey. He plays the former FBI director as an isolated man of principle — someone who always put his duty to his country above all else. While Trump in the show is portrayed as a loudmouth who can’t keep up with his own rambling thoughts, Comey rarely reveals what is going on in mind, unless it is to bark sharp orders and exude authority. He communicates not in words, but expressions. What a masterclass by Daniels.
The Comey Rule, despite its obvious flaws, cannot be faulted for them. It achieves what it set out to. To enjoy the drama, one doesn’t need to have an intimate understanding of American politics, or of the pawns who are sacrificed amid its unending power games. This is wonderful for international audiences such as ourselves. And at a time when nationalism is often confused with patriotism, it’s a show that offers a much needed distinction between the two. The Comey Rule premieres Sunday, September 27, on Voot Select