After ‘Mark Felt’, the hitherto shadowy corridors of the FBI are increasingly opening up to onscreen representation, as the entertainment world realises what a setting for drama they can be. Jeff Daniels is Tom Hanks-esque as straight-shooter FBI chief James Comey in this high-profile miniseries adaptation of his book. It is a clinical and methodical if somewhat TLDR exposition of the procedures within the agency as it dealt with issues surrounding the 2016 Presidential election. Although it could use being about an hour shorter, it generally makes for great viewing.
The beauty here is in the details. The minutiae of the timings, wordings, opinions and weighty decisions that make up these guys’ high-pressure day-to-day workload. That said there’s also a generous helping of patriotic sanctimoniousness and hokey sentiment in the mix to show off the FBI in the best possible light.
It also becomes evident especially in part II that there is a level of poetic licence and editorialising being used that is unprecedented and somewhat regrettable for a dramatised portrayal of a sitting US President. Donald Trump is caricatured rather unkindly as a menacing pantomime villain, and sadly this character assassination appears to have been the chief motivation for the entire production. The bias is crude, becomes tedious and cannot help but undermine the work’s credibility as a well-intentioned factual representation. How many of the events, and in particular the conversations, shown here are real and how many are speculative wishful-thinking on the part of the film-makers? We are not told. The writers seem desperately to have wanted the ‘Russian election interference’ story to have been another Watergate, and despite neither the verifiable facts nor the findings of the Mueller investigation adding up to that, they attempt to spin it as though it was anyway, apparently intending to influence the upcoming 2020 election.
But if you can get past the thickly-applied bias, this is still an excellent and enjoyable TV movie for both blues and reds. Daniels in particular raises his game as a personification of onscreen ‘trustworthiness’, and a lot of loaded and heavyweight subject matter is dealt with sharply and subtly in what is a well-acted if pompous big budget drama.