I’m a man who hates Trump, but even I notice when a picture preaches to a quire who’s tired of its gospel. There’s nothing aesthetically nor intellectually original in the two-part Showtime series. Every element from Jay Roach’s bag of tricks is tirelessly used in this HBO wannabe series. A new character pops up on the screen? Throw up a title with the individual’s name along with his/her occupation. Don’t want to use an actor for a particular real-life role? Use a news beat with him/her in it to push along the story. To add insult to injury, creator Billy Ray applies everything you’d see in a “based on a true story” tale ranging from our protagonist giving lofty holier than though speeches, to people finding disturbing things on a computer screen then proclaiming “holy sh*t” aloud. To sound a bit like Trump, “it won’t it even take a week before folks forget that this film even exists.”
Anyone who ran across the ads for this TV movie on YouTube probably noticed the almost SNL like quality in its casting. When making a film about actual people who are not only very much alive but are still in the spotlight, you can’t shake the semi lifetime movie value of it all. Kingsley Ben-Adir looks like Barak Obama if he were still in High School despite his admirable performance. Peter Coyote’s brief appearance as Robert Muller is pretty good but still has that odd action figure type of makeup look. The selection of Jeff Daniels in yet another political piece is becoming a banality itself.
The moment Mr. Daniels was announced, I knew the film was going to be a piece about the dignity of James Comey. A man who put the FBI’s institutions’ stability ahead of anyone else’s lack of a moral high ground compared to his. In that respect, I was correct. One thing I enjoyed, however, was Ray’s honest examination of Comey’s naivety. Jim Comey thought he was so righteous he couldn’t listen from anyone in the FBI or his family regarding how calamitous his Hillary Clinton investigation timing could be. Pushing on ahead, everyone felt bad for what happened too good old Jim in the end but still wanted to punch him in the face. When Jim’s wife Patrice (Jennifer Ehle) dressed him down in the kitchen, I cheered her on.
Let’s address the hunchbacked elephant in the room. How’s Brendan Gleeson as Donald Trump? The good news is he does a fine job. The bad news is how over the top sinister he is. A choice that I can’t help but assume Billy Ray had a part in more than Gleeson. Whenever Trump is in the picture, he’s either silhouetted, walking amongst the shadows, shot in an intimidating worm’s eye view with dutch angles, or is surrounded in a dark room with only a spool of light on him, making him appear like the Devil incarnate. Having Donald Trump appear as Satan is okay with me. Still, it needs to be subdued enough where even a choir member isn’t unintentionally giggling at scenes that I should be taken seriously.
To say that Gleeson is perfect in the role is far from the truth. He uses his voice gravel to make Trump sound frightening, playing him like a slithering beast. The result is Marlon Brando playing Batman. At times it works. The way it works is this. When reading books like “Fear” by Bob Woodward, or listening to interviews from various top aides who served under Trump, I already knew he’s separated from reality. Seeing it dramatized with Brendan Gleeson’s petulant psychotic character surrounded within a story of highly functional articulate adults speaking to other reasonably mature men and woman of grace sinks in how far we’ve divorced ourselves from reality.
Before, I’ve heard people talk about him being unwell through the media and literature, but seeing it dramatized for some strange reason solidifies what they meant in a way you can’t get from a book or interview. I could finally understand why people froze up around him when they should have broken protocol and taken action against the man. Trump’s power, narcissism, and buffoonery is a cocktail that can give even the strongest willed minds a walloping hangover. How does anyone deal with a man like that?
My empathy has its limits. No matter how bad Billy Ray may want me to feel for James Comey, there’s the irrefutable fact that Comey said in countless interviews that if given a choice, he’d make the same decision he did in 2016 all over again. For all the sugar coating they give James Comey, he still did something that may have permanently destroyed America. “The Comey Effect” can pronounce the honorability of Jim Comey all it wants, but at the end of the day, the movie did little to sway me emotionally at all, and I’m on their side. I join every faceless antagonist in the film by continuing to proudly proclaim, “f*ck James Comey.”