Review: Showtime's 'The Comey Rule' is engaging political theater

Jeff Daniels is James Comey and Brendan Gleeson is Donald Trump in this timely look at the 2016 Presidential election

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Brendan Gleeson's Donald Trump doesn't show up until 15 minutes into part two of "The Comey Rule," Showtime's riveting look at the 2016 Presidential election and its aftermath. But it's well-worth the wait. 

Gleeson is transfixing, all pursed lips, boisterous self-confidence and controlled chaos in the role. His Trump is menacing, bullheaded and a force of nature unto himself, and he wipes out everything in his path.

Jeff Daniels and Brendan Gleeson in "The Comey Rule."

Fortunately, "The Comey Rule" is built to weather his storm. 

Jeff Daniels is the stability that forms the base of writer-director Billy Ray's political horror movie. He plays James Comey, the former FBI director who oversees the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

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The first part of the two-part miniseries focuses on the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't pickle Comey and his team found themselves in with regard to looking into Clinton's emails. Their intent was to follow the letter of the law and not interfere with the election, and the impossibility of that task weighs heavily on Comey and his staffers.

Not that Daniels' Comey ever shows his cards: he's personable but curt — he tells people "say more" when he'd like them to expand on a topic — and he's good with a crowd. But he's stoic and dedicated to preserving the integrity of the institution he serves, and he's married to the law, its structure and the order it provides.

Trump is none of those things, which sets up a juicy showdown between the two. When they finally meet — until this point, Gleeson's Trump is only shown in fleeting glimpses from behind — it's a fireworks show, with Gleeson-as-Trump going big and Daniels-as-Comey quietly reacting, registering his disbelief in tiny facial tics. It's a grand moment. 

A lot of "The Comey Rule" is facial acting, characters reacting to Trump's upending of all political norms. It's a lot of wide eyes, frozen stares and exasperated, expressionless mugging, which presents Trump as the ultimate bull in Washington's china shop. 

"The Comey Rule" has an odd bookending structure, and it's awkwardly framed by Rod Rosenstein's (Scoot McNairy) relaying of the story of Comey to a staffer. And part one comes down too hard on Comey for the role he played in the outcome of the 2016 election, hanging it almost entirely on his shoulders, although since the story is told from his perspective, that is perhaps how it may have felt in his world. 

Those gripes aside, "The Comey Rule" is a frightening and timely look at recent history and its repercussions. Actors will no doubt be biting into the role of Trump for years to come, but to top Gleeson they'll have to do a a heck of a lot of chewing. The food line starts here.  

'The Comey Rule'


Rated TV-MA: Language, sexual situations

9 p.m. Sunday and Monday