Two of writer/director Billy Ray’s best films are also real-life Washington stories about liars who got caught, with satisfying results when the liars are exposed, disgraced, and in one of the cases, imprisoned. “Breaking Glass” is the story of hotshot New Republic journalist Stephen Glass, who fabricated many of his stories. And “Breach” is another FBI story, about a high-ranking FBI official who became a Russian informant in what was described as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.”
This Washington story does not have as satisfying a conclusion, at least not yet, perhaps because we are still in the middle of it. Some incidents depicted here have been overtaken by far more momentous events, including the impeachment proceedings and criminal convictions or guilty pleas involving a number of Trump associates.
This retelling, based on the experiences of one person whose tenure in the Trump administration was under five months, is too focused on the trees instead of the forest for even this hard-core Washington lawyer and policy wonk. So much worse has happened since the firing of James Comey that it is difficult to care about the pillow talk of two FBI officials who were sleeping together or whether it is wrong for an aide to reach out to the Russians before the President is inaugurated or for the President to ask the FBI Director for “loyalty.”
The miniseries might have been better off as a slimmed-down two-hour film. It is too cluttered with characters and detail to work as a cautionary tale, though the updates on the FBI and Justice Department staff at the end is chilling. SPOILER ALERT for those who do not read the newspaper: they’re all gone.
Any supporters of President Trump who watch this film will have no problem with a President asking an FBI Director for loyalty, despite the explicit contrast in the opening of the first episode with just-inaugurated President Obama (up-and-coming actor Kingsley Ben-Adir), interviewing Comey for the job of Director of the FBI. Though Comey is “a Bush guy” and a Republican who voted for McCain, Obama welcomes him as someone who will disagree in a constructive manner. In the interview, Comey emphasizes the importance of the FBI’s independence from any political slant so he can be free to look into any possible wrongdoing by government officials. He leaves the meeting saying, “I hope I can look forward to years of not being close with you.”