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'The Comey Rule' review: The former FBI director's story lacks shades of gray

Jeff Daniels as James Comey in "The Comey

Jeff Daniels as James Comey in "The Comey Rule" on Showtime. Credit: CBS Television Studios / Showtime / Ben Mark Holzberg

MINISERIES "The Comey Rule"

WHEN|WHERE Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based on former FBI Director James Comey's 2018 memoir, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership," this two-night miniseries begins with Comey's (Jeff Daniels) appointment by President Barack Obama (Kingsley Ben-Adir). The director is quickly thrown in the middle of Hillary Clinton's email scandal, along with the rest of the upper echelon of the FBI, which includes Andrew McCabe (Michael Kelly), Lisa Page (Oona Chaplin), Jim Baker (Steve Zissis) and Peter Strzok (Steven Pasquale). Then word comes down that the Russians have hacked the U.S. election. In the second part, it's finally left to Comey's old friend at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (Scoot McNairy) to fire him, at the request of President Donald Trump (Brendan Gleeson) — who claims it was Rosenstein's idea to fire him. The real reason: Trump had wanted Comey to say that he was not part of the ongoing Russian investigation, and Comey had refused.

MY SAY "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it," Winston Churchill famously promised, and history will be kind to Comey because he got a TV miniseries out of it. Better yet, a reasonably well-produced one with Jeff Daniels to play him — the Daniels of "The Newsroom," who never passed a desk he didn't want to stand on, where he could deliver speeches brimming with moral certitude. His Comey is a good man crushed between a succession of rocks and hard places — those emails, the Russian investigation, that new POTUS, even his own wife and kids. He never makes the political decision but the ethical one. He lets everyone know it, too.

That's OK. It's Comey's story and director Billy Ray ("The Hunger Games" screenplay) has every right to sanctify his subject. But what's ultimately missing is the humanity of that subject. Who is the real Jim Comey? What torments him, or keeps him up in the middle of the night, besides deranged calls from the president? Instead, he's a character out of a Frank Capra movie — instantly recognizable, ultimately unknowable.

Meanwhile, Gleeson's impersonation incorporates the familiar run-on prattle, full of bravura, braggadocio and blarney, but he's added some darker shades here too. At one point, Comey tells a colleague that Trump reminds him of mob turncoat Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano and it's Sammy the Bull we get. During the infamous dinner meeting where the president demands fealty from his FBI director, Trump inspects a butter knife that glints menacingly in the light. We're suddenly in the middle of some archetypal mob dining scene, like the one in "Goodfellas'' where Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito holds up a much larger knife.

While the brush strokes are broad, it's abundantly clear that "The Comey Rule" is intended as a warning, and as agitprop it can be highly effective. In one of those whatever-happened-to closing cards that "American Graffiti" made famous so long ago, the camera pans across Comey's various colleagues at the FBI, accompanied by the words "Fired," "Fired," "Resigned," "Fired," "Retired," "Resigned."

It'd be hilarious — if it wasn't so tragic.

BOTTOM LINE Comey's story in black and white, with not much shading in between.

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