In the Loop
- Directed by Armando Iannucci
- Written by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Jesse Armstrong
- Starring Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini
- Classification: 14A
Shorn of empire and stripped of clout, the Brits long ago lost their status as major players on the globe's political scene. Happily, what hasn't gone is their wicked wit - they still know how to speak sharply and carry a big satirical stick.
Of course, political satire is a dying art in an age when pols do such a splendid job of satirizing themselves. When reality is comically absurd, tragically absurd, why bother with fiction? That's why many of today's topical humourists (Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Sacha Baron Cohen) are content to make documentaries, or at least their mockumentary equivalent.
But that's also why In the Loop feels so refreshing: The brainchild of British director Armando Iannucci, it takes on the politicians at their own dirty game, daring to fictionally embellish the tawdry facts, to out-spin the spin doctors.
Iannucci has had some practice, writing comic episodes of The Thick of It for the BBC (which, unlike the CBC, clings to the quaint notion that satire requires teeth, an offensive bite, and should do more than gum the audience into a state of terminal boredom). Here, the feature length allows for more characters and larger targets, not just at home but also abroad.
At the outset, the place is London, and the time is some vague period before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A literally diminutive minister in a junior cabinet post, Simon Foster (the slyly wonderful Tom Hollander) is giving a radio interview on the vexing problem of diarrhea in the Third World. Straying from this fascinating topic, he goes off script to opine casually that war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable." That remark is the pebble in the pond, and, often hilariously, the rest of the movie tracks the ripple effect.
Chief among those ripples is Malcolm Tucker, the PM's director of communications and the meanest mouth in the land. Reprising his role from the tube, Peter Capaldi and his Scottish burr are the Coltrane of invective, the Ella of scatology, giving verbal abuse a time signature and a toe-tapping beat - his language may be blue but, my, his rhythm is golden. It's gloriously nasty, it's vicious fun, and it's almost all unrepeatable on these sainted pages. Here's an exception. Trying to correct his faux pas, the dim-bulb minister burbles on about a need "to climb the mountain of conflict." Snaps Malcolm in utter disgust: "You sound like a Nazi Julie Andrews."
From there, the serpentine plot has both doves and hawks in the U.S. administration conniving to make use of Foster's blunder. So the action shifts to the beltway in Washington, where the marginalized Brits mingle with the powerful Yanks, proving that they share much common ground. On each side, ambitious young careerists sniff the prevailing winds, middle-aged mandarins hunker down to protect their pensions, elected officials bray, diplomats waffle, intelligence is faked, minutes are rewritten and principles melt like ice cubes in a dry sauna.
Yep, it wouldn't be funny if it weren't sad, and the ensemble cast enjoys putting the wicked into the wit. Check out James Gandolfini as a Pentagon general with a pacifist bent but a provincial heart. His anti-war speech comes with a delicious kicker: "Once you've been to war, once you've seen it, you never want to go there again. It's like France." And don't think that we in the True North get a pass. The script is rife with pointed asides, little darts among the larger arrows. Making reference to a diplomatic meeting, one such dart hits us square in our humility: "You needn't worry about the Canadians. They're just happy to be there. They always [look]surprised they've been invited."
Admittedly, at times the loop turns a bit too loopy, and the plot's multiple twists tangle into tiresome knots. Also, Malcolm's incessant invective, clever as it is, definitely has an expiry date that, once surpassed, leaves us feeling stranded in a Don Rickles monologue. Nor are we ever threatened by the big satiric stick. The best satire implicates the audience; this stuff keeps our sense of superiority smugly intact.
From that high perch, we're free to look down at the miscreants and laugh up our sleeve. No doubt, In theLoop offers us ample opportunity to scorn our inferiors: all those small minds making momentous decisions, safe from the horrors they inflict, so awfully foul in fact and, now, so delightfully foolish in fiction.