“The Comey Rule”–Inner Conflict

In this two-part Hulu and Showtime series, FBI Director James Comey (Jeff Daniels) begins a collision course against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Brendan Gleeson).  Based on Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty”, the first part of The Comey Rule follows the investigation into Hillary’s email and its impact on the 2016 election.  Part Two follows the aftermath of the election on Comey’s career and on his family, together with his investigation into Russia, code-named “Crossfire Hurricane”.   This is not just a political docudrama but  an emotional account of what happened:  Comey’s side of the story.

The Comey Rule attempts to give the viewer insight into the stress intertwined within the decisions government civil servants make on a daily basis.   The major question being raised:  Why did Comey do it?  Why did he thrust a hand grenade into the gears of the Democratic Party’s campaign for Hillary Clinton– not just once but twice. There was no going back. 

Watching The Comey Rule we see the moral compass that rigidly guides Comey’s every thought. What an impossible situation he finds himself in, based on the fundamentals of what he stoically considers his only course of action. Without reflecting on the consequences of his actions from a more complex moral gradient, the middle-aged Comey seems to have the naive behavior of a twenty-something bureaucrat not yet used to the bloodsport of politics in DC.   The Comey Rule  is both engrossing and maddening:  seeing how Comey makes his  decisions and how shocked he is by their repercussions.

“What would I have done in Comey’s position?” The Comey Rule offers no simple answer other than Comey sincerely felt he was saving the integrity of the FBI.   There does seem to be tentativeness in how Comey is portrayed in “Crossfire Hurricane”, the catalyst for Trump terminating his career at the FBI .   A man so morally stalwart by his own standards, Comey seems to have wanted to do the right thing no matter what. Refusing to cross a line he had drawn for himself, regardless of advice from his own team members  in the FBI and from his family, Comey is portrayed as a tragic figure.

Jeff Daniels, as is expected, embodies the tortuous conflict within James Comey.   A superb, extraordinarily subtle, but very credible performance.   Regardless of  one’s political proclivities,  The Comey Rule tells a story that needs to be told. And listened to.  It is of Shakespearean proportions.

As a drama, this was so well-executed.  Historians will have to decide. what is fact and what is fiction.  

Although we are too close to truly see what happened, watch The Comey Rule.  It is disturbing.   

The Queen’s Gambit–A Passion for Winning

Queen's Gambit Netflix original

The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story based upon the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name.  A Netflix original series released October 30 of this year, the drama opens with a scene of an eight-year old girl, Beth Harmon (newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy), soon to become an orphan  residing at a bleak orphanage, Methuen, under a severe headmistress.  It is the mid-1950s and there are few options for an orphan, especially a little girl.

Struggling with loneliness, adoption and being a social misfit, Beth finds solace through learning chess from the janitor (Bill Camp) in the Methuen School’s basement. As she begins to earn begrudging recognition as a chess prodigy, emotional issues  with drug and alcohol dependency compete with her drive to win at all costs.   She is adopted as a teenager into a dysfunctional family. Her adoptive mother is both a support and an enabler in her addictions. If Beth Harmon doesn’t keep on winning, she will lose her soul in her aggressive fight for deliverance from her past.  

Watching The Queen’s Gambit the viewer may feel as if chess  is an endgame for survival. Other chess movies have also made the game a metaphor for redemption and transformation.  (Think In Search of Bobby Fischer and Queen of Katwe reviewed here on November 13, 2018). 

 Although the authenticity of the chess tournaments may be surprisingly riveting to some, for others they may slow down the pacing.  Nevertheless, Beth’s inner life and that of her friends and opponents still create a compelling story.  Watching Beth struggle on her journey to becoming independent and proud, –breaking  barriers to being the first female international chess grandmaster– is mirrored in each chess move.  You have to cheer for this underdog.  And some of the creativity in photographing the chess pieces truly is brilliant (including imagining a strategic slide of the queen’s pawn on the room’s ceiling).

Highly original and  surprisingly entertaining, this  mini-series is  a daring move indeed!

Availability:  Netflix streaming.

“The Social Dilemma”– Addiction or Threat?

This is a  Netflix docudrama not to be missed.  The Social Dilemma  a  granular investigation of the rise of social media and the  ongoing damage it is causing to segments of society around the globe, is chilling.  Focusing on exploitation of Internet  users, The Social Dilemma, produced by Jeff Orlowski, reveals how  most users are oblivious about how their surfing patterns have been monetized. We are all   highly valuable assets being sold for financial gain.  The user ‘s data is sold to advertisers through embedded algorithms.  The advertisers are the real customers of the social media giants.   Just follow the money.  Do we pay to use Facebook? Who does?  

The business model has been designed to create an addiction:  from maintaining “eyeballs”  from the three  bouncing balls the user sees while  waiting for  an incoming text to the “Like” and “hearts” buttons  which cause warm feelings validating the individual’s status and self-worth.  The content associated with the eyeballs (or “traction”) is then catalogued according to preferences, biases, and behavioral patterns to enable efficient data-mining.    Throughout The Social Dilemma, a teenager’s social-media addiction is dramatized with actors playing the roles of the naive young users being controlled by powerful algorithms structured by artificial intelligence.  The teenagers don’t stand a chance of ever detoxing.

That social media can be addictive and threatening isn’t news to anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn (Isn’t that most of us?).  But the most disturbing and pernicious aspect of Jeff Orlowski’s documentary is that the system is designed structurally to gather BigBrother information for profit.  That is the  business model.

An advertising mecca results.  In the hands of companies like Facebook and Twitter, the ads can be tailored to the potential customer’s taste.  Social media platforms’ use in politics, their effect on mental health and their role in spreading conspiracy theories  can and has undermined the stability of communities.

With Machiavellian precision,  the psychology of social media is at the cellular level.  Users want to be with the same tribe (blocking those who disagree), because that is a primordial imperative for survival.    Infinite scrolling and push notifications designed to feed information that the  users want to believe keeps us constantly addicted.  And this  personalized “data” not just  predicts but influences our actions.  Our world is thus re-created by the clickbait the largest social media companies predict we’re most comfortable seeing.  This is confirmation bias at its most extreme.  Advertisers and political propagandists are delivered the prey they earnestly seek with increasing accuracy.

To turn social media into some sort of Frankenstein for the digital age is too simplistic.  Social media can be an incredibly valuable tool for fact-finding, for mobilization of people’s good will and for efficient dissemination of news. However, what is dangerous in The Social Dilemma is how the tech experts (who were instrumental in developing the algorithms for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) are themselves deeply alarmed by how  positive social changes can suddenly and dramatically be hijacked,   morphing into changes that are nefarious and incendiary. 

Similar to how television was eventually regulated for its intrusion upon children’s minds for commercial success, The Social Dilemma raises the question: what can be done now that the genie is out of the bottle?  One answer proposed is that user information be treated as a taxable asset. Undoubtedly tech  companies would pass on the cost of the taxes causing advertisers to buy less..  Congress is now holding hearings on the monopolistic nature of the mega social media corporations, but The Social Dilemma hovers more closely to the specter of human engineering in the hands of potentially ruthless agents. Compliance and regulation are long overdue.

Truly eye-opening and disturbing.

Availability:  The Social Dilemma premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was released on Netflix on September 9, 2020.

“Hinterland” —The Remote Interior of the Mind

An  original Welsh-noir murder series on Netflix (in three seasons, 13 total episodes), Hinterland  is for those who love this genre.   The main character, DCI Tom Mathias, is a deeply troubled unsympathetic detective who, together with his more mature and brilliant partner Mared Rhys, travels around a small hamlet in Wales solving at least one murder per episode.  The dark, forboding, and gloomy landscape rivals that of the best Nordic noir raising the same question: how can there be so many murders in such a small town?  Dark and at times, sinister and ominous, the Welsh scenery parallels the characters and their secretive, bleak, often damaged lives.  There is a hinterland or backstory for each character.

Police investigatory work in Hinterland often seems to go  nowhere. Where are the brilliant breakthroughs?  In this police procedural, Mathias and his supernaturally patient partner, Mared, lead the viewer to red herring after red herring, sometimes at an annoyingly slow pace. There are few malevolently brilliant  masterminds which makes the surprising endings even less expected. 

 
If you like detectives unraveling intricate master plans, only a few episodes provide that type of drama.   The suspect is never the “easy” one with means, motive, and opportunity.  Even when the perpetrator is identified early on, the motivation is superbly unraveled,  with an infrequent note of empathy for why he or she committed the murder. Broken murderers abound.   Moral lessons to be learned are often paired with  suffering that created more suffering.

The structuring of the three seasons with the “book-ending” of  episode one (in Season One) with the finale (in Season Three) is exceptional.  While each episode stands on its own for a single murder, it is beginning in Season Two that we see how the show’s screenwriters wished to tightly weave the darkest hinterland of psychological pain into the climax in Season Three’s finale.  

For those who also appreciate exceptional photography and cinematography, each episode has beautiful framing of shots through door frames and windows to underscore the need to shift perspective along side the detectives Mathias and Rhys. 

Highly recommend this sleeper!  

Availability: Netflix streaming.