Synopsis: Peter Capaldi stars as a foul-mouthed British government spokesman who must act quickly when a mid-level minister (Tom Hollander of Pirates Of The Caribbean) tells an interviewer that U.S. war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable”. But when they are both summoned to Washington D.C., the hapless politico quickly becomes a pawn of bureaucrats, spin doctors and military advisors, including a hardnosed General (James Gandolfini, in a performance Rolling Stone hails as “slyly hilarious”). Gina McKee (Wonderland), Anna Chlumsky (My Girl) and Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder) co-star in this hilarious satire from director/co-writer Armando Lannucci, the award-winning creator of the classic BBC sitcoms I’m Alan Partridge and The Thick Of It.
In the Loop 8.25
eyelights: its ensemble cast. its caustic wit. its send-up of the lead-up to war.
eyesores: its deeply cynical and depressing view of politics.
“This is the problem with civilians wanting to go to war. Once you’ve been there, once you’ve seen it, you never want to go again unless you absolutely fucking have to. It’s like France.”
I saw ‘In the Loop’ when it came out in 2009. I was part of a (now-defunct, sadly) movie and dinner discussion group and it was the motion picture du jour one Saturday afternoon. I still remember it well for two significant reasons: 1) it was the beginning of a deep and continuing relationship and 2) it was one of the funniest movies I’d seen since ‘The Big Lebowski‘.
I didn’t know it at the time, but ‘In the Loop’ is deeply rooted in ‘The Thick of It‘, the BBC television series that pokes fun at politics and all the backroom shenanigans that surround it. I think I heard something to that effect, but it meant nothing to me at the time. And, thus, I watched it with a completely fresh set of eyes and expectations – and was bowled over.
‘In the Loop’ serves as a sort of prequel to the TV series, taking us back to the days leading up to the second invasion of Iraq, in 2003. It brings the return of a few key characters, such as Malcolm Tucker (again played with feral ferocity by Peter Capaldi), but it also introduces new ones, including an American contingent that takes part in the negotiations leading to war.
Did I say “negotiations”? I meant to say “faux pas”… because, as with ‘The Thick of It’, the whole plot revolves around Ministerial and bureaucratic incompetence, misinformation and egos. It begins with a statement by Minister Simon Forster being misrepresented in the media and then it spins out of control until the U.K. and the U.S. are maneuvering around Iraq at the U.N.
And we all know how that went.
But we don’t exactly know how it all unfolded, and ‘In the Loop’ takes a sardonic, skewed view of the whole affair, connecting a series of hilarious dots together to show us how it might have – in the hands of self-involved, vain people whose fragile egos and insecurities, trump honour, integrity and class (Ahem… which makes you wonder if ‘In the Loop’ got it right, in the end).
As with ‘The Thick of It’, the picture rests heavily on the dialogues and performances. The same writers were involved in the making of it and, consequently, the script is literally bursting with brutally funny exchanges; there is a bare minimum of two incisive retorts, putdowns or observations every minute, and they usually zing back and forth mercilessly fast and furious.
Thankfully, the ensemble cast is all gold, from the leads to the secondary parts; there’s probably a good dozen characters that are consistently interesting and/or hilarious in ‘In the Loop’ (not bad for a 100-minute picture). None outshines Capaldi as Malcolm, naturally (and I remember how blown away I was by him the first time around), but they all hold their own quite well.
One of my favourites was Anna Chlumsky as Liza Weld, an assistant to the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy. While she didn’t quite have the barbed-wire tongue of the others, she had enough of a razor edge to prove that Chlumsky could play in the big leagues. I had wondered where she’d gone after the vastly under-rated ‘My Girl’, and she was a nice surprise.
Oh, and did I ever mention Gina McKee before? Double win.
But the most surprising thing for me, now that I’ve watched ‘In the Loop’, is the fact that much of the show’s main cast (and some bit players) also appear in the film, but under different guises. For instance, Chris Addison (who plays Ollie in the television series) plays Toby, the new assistant to Minister Simon Foster – a very similar role, even if they are different characters,
(Amusingly enough, Toby has a relationship with Olivia Poulet’s character, Suzy – just as Ollie did with her character Emma!)
Aside for the trenchant dialogues, there are some superb scenes peppering the picture, such as:
“Twelve thousand troops. But that’s not enough. That’s the amount that are going to die. And at the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you’ve lost.”
- A hilariously absurd meeting between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clark and Lieutenant General George Miller (played by James Gandolfini) in a party host’s daughter’s room. They wind up counting the army contingent available for the Iraq war on a child calculator that makes silly noises.
“Well, his briefing notes were written in alphabetti spaghetti. When I left, I nearly tripped up over his fucking umbilical cord.”
- Malcolm unexpectedly shows up in Washington. After abusing Simon he has a meeting at the White House with a 22-year old (looking all of 16) who he at first assumed is an assistant. Nope. He’s it! (Ha! This is a deserved jab at the George W. Bush White House!).
“Oh, great. Meeting my constituents. It’s like being Simon Cowell, only without the ability to say, “Fuck off, you’re mental”.”
- In a vignette that changes the pace but seems slightly out of place, Foster goes back to his constituency to work with the locals (one of whom is played by none other than Steve Coogan). It’s not especially funny, but it certainly stands out from the rest. Plus which it’s ultimately essential to the plot.
“I think you’re doing Linton’s dirty work. You’re his little English bitch and you don’t even know it. Bet if I came to your hotel room tonight, I’d find you down on all fours, him hanging out the back of you.”
- The (literally) head-to-head confrontation between Malcolm and Lt-General Miller (whom he affectionately calls “General Flintstone”). Gandolfini doesn’t even try to match Capaldi’s intensity – instead, he taps just enough into his character’s goofiness to be an excellent counterpoint. It’s a perfect match.
Look, I may be biased because of the deep personal connection this picture has for me, but I’d say that ‘In the Loop’ is a modern classic. It’s jaw-droppingly chaotic and densely cynical, but it hits all the right notes for anyone who likes their humour laced with napalm. Built on sharp dialogues and delivered masterfully by a superb cast, it’s one not to miss.
“”Climbing the mountain of conflict”? You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews!”
Date of viewing: September 13, 2015