Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop has been praised as one of the funniest films of the past few years, but surely it deserves to be recognised for also being one of the scariest. With the exception of Sam Raimi’s goofy horror flicks, this is a rarely achieved feat. In The Loop is Dr. Strangelove for a new era; the War Room has been replaced by drably decorated offices, insane army generals have been replaced by eerily sensible ones, and the man with the most power is not the POTUS but instead a PR-man with a filthy mouth. I can’t help but feel that this is an accurate representation of the way the world actually works.
The film begins intimately, yet frantically, snowballing into catastrophe. Events begin in the U.K., as the Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) announces on BBC radio (innocently enough) that a proposed war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable”. The problem is, war might not actually be as unforeseeable as this relatively low level minister realises. Foster isn’t sure what he’s done wrong exactly, but everyone around him is willing to let him know how appallingly he’s messed up, with spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) relishing the opportunity to chew him out with increasingly imaginative slurs and cusses.
Foster is sent to America to reaffirm the U.K.’s position on war, that being that it is neither “foreseeable” nor “unforeseeable”. He’s joined by fresh-faced aide Toby (Chris Addison) who endures a baptism of fire like no other, as he and Foster attempt to rub shoulders with two Assistant Secretaries of State; one is diplomatic, peaceful and completely ineffective (Mimi Kennedy); the other is war-hungry and bird-brained (David Rasche). Also in the mix is a fence-sitting General (James Gandolfini), a U.S. aide too intelligent for her own good (Anna Chlumsky) and a working class Englishman (Steve Coogan) who couldn’t care less about a war; he just wants someone to keep his back wall from falling down.
The film is loosely inspired by Iannucci’s television show The Thick of It, which also satirised British politics (on a much smaller scale). I have never seen The Thick of It, but if it is half as funny as In the Loop, I’m ready to invest money and time into all four seasons. Peter Capaldi’s blistering performance as Malcolm Tucker is so outrageously hilarious (and terrifying) that I now crave more of his foul-mouthed insults. That’s not to say he outclasses the rest of the cast; Chris Addison and Tom Hollander make a side-splitting double act, while James Gandolfini shows off his impressive comic chops. Combined with his subtly devastating voice work in Where the Wild Things Are, Gandolfini has well and truly shed the skin of Tony Soprano. All doubters concerned about his future in film need to re-evaluate their stance.
Be warned. This film is cruel. It is cruel to its characters, and it is cruel to its audience. The action moves quickly and the dialogue darts by. Acronyms and Government-jargon are hurled around, punctuated by horrifying and downright-bizarre insults. The fact that the audience often laughs rapturously over important plot points doesn’t help either. By the film’s end, I was struggling to piece together exactly what had taken place. But I think that’s the point. And frankly, it’s worth it. I anticipate my next viewing of the film; I can only imagine the hilarious lines that I missed out on. It will be like seeing it for the first time.
In the Loop is one of the sharpest satires ever made. Too often in these political spoofs the screenplay devolves into earnest point-making during the final act (see: Wag the Dog; Man of the Year). Not so here. The point is made, that’s for sure, but without patronising the audience. It is a hopelessly bleak ending, but so funny! To quote Roger Ebert, “we laugh, that we may not cry.” He used to say it during his drinking days. Funny that. After seeing the hilarious but terrifying reality presented here, you might well want a stiff drink too.