The Film: In the Loop (2009)
The Principles: Armando Iannucci (director), Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Mimi Kennedy, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, Gina McKee, David Rasche
Written by: Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, and Ian Martin.
The Premise: The US is quietly preparing for an invasion in the Middle East. Simon Foster (Hollander), the UK Minister for International Development, unintentionally strays from the party line during a radio interview when a conversation about a third world diarrhea epidemic somehow winds up with him saying that war is “unforeseeable.” The Prime Minister’s head spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi), must do damage control as Foster is thrust into the media spotlight. Foster, along with his aides, Judy (McKee) and Toby (Addison), is brought to Washington, where both proponents and dissenters play tug of war with the bumbling minister, both sides hoping to use his clumsily acquired popularity to their advantage.
Is it any good? It is an instant classic, and one of the funniest comedies of the decade. You’ll notice I added a separate section for the writers above, and for good reason. In the Loop’s Oscar-nominated screenplay is a nonstop barrage of brilliant one-liners that demands multiple viewings, as you will no doubt miss out on a great deal of the film’s side-splitting humor as you attempt to contain your own laughter.
One thing that sets In the Loop apart from most political satire is the decision to avoid the higher ups and, in Iannucci’s words, “deal mainly with state department underlings, the kind of people that actually make decisions with enormous political consequences.” While the focus of the satire in this instance is the lead up to the Iraq war, he could have just as easily applied the same acerbic mockery to any political process of the last 50 years. Iannucci, creator of the equally excellent series “The Thick of It” (upon which this film is based) and, most recently, HBO’s “Veep,” isn’t interested in portraying one side as better than another. In the Loop lampoons the entire state of democracy, as political lackeys, both for and against the war, do whatever they can to advance their own personal agendas with no concern for the facts. Thankfully, the rapid fire delivery of witty zingers and hilariously over the top profanity keep us from lamenting how depressingly accurate the film’s depiction of backdoor politics really is, and cements itself as one of the most quotable movies of all time. This is satire at its finest.
After being thrown into the chaotic world of the Washington State Department, Simon Foster continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself as he attempts to sit in on Assistant Secretary of Policy Linton Barwick’s (Rasche) secret war committee. Barwick, the chief proponent of the war, who famously uses a live hand grenade as a paperweight, is opposed by Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clark (Kennedy), who often shows more concern for her chipped veneer than the impending war, and Lieutenant General Miller (the late, great Gandolfini), who says of war: “Once you’ve been there, once you’ve seen it, you never want to go again unless you absolutely fucking have to. Like France.” Gandolfini brilliantly bounces back and forth between his warm, teddy bear persona (see the scene in which he explains the lack of available troops to Clark via a child’s toy calculator) and the intimidating military man (as he presents Barwick’s aide with a crumpled up magazine as a sign of aggression).
Things escalate as a report written by Clark’s assistant, Liza (Chlumsky), that details the myriad problems with the proposed invasion is leaked to the press. This leads Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker to fly to the UN council, frantically trying to prevent the report from being circulated until after the vote for military action has passed. Capaldi steals the show throughout the film. Loosely based on Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell, Malcolm Tucker decimates everything and everyone in his path, hurling fireballs of vulgar vitriol like Jackson Pollock splattering paint on a canvas. Calling someone a “leaky fucking minge box” is one of the sweeter things he has to say during his perpetual fits of rage.
As things come to a head, jobs are lost, relationships are doomed, and Steve Coogan’s wall crumbles. It is an affair not to be missed.
Is it worth a look? The question should be “why have you not seen it already?” If the idea of taking profanity to an almost artistic level, blending it with the Brits’ trademark biting wit, and drenching it over the US/UK political world is something that appeals to you, then this is an absolute must-own.
Random anecdotes: Prior to filming, Iannucci gained access to the US Department of State by flashing a simple photo ID to a security guard and saying “BBC. I’m here for the 12:30.” He then spent a few hours walking around taking pictures for his set designers.
In the Loop features a great deal of improvising. In the face off between James Gandolfini and Peter Capaldi, Gandolfini became angry enough to make Capaldi drop out of character and ask the writers to come up with a better comeback, as he briefly thought Gandolfini would “physically pummel [him].”
Cinematic soulmates: The Thick of It (TV), Veep (TV), Thank You for Smoking, Dr. Strangelove, Four Lions