In The Loop
Though little known outside cult circles as a name and even less recognizable as a face, curiously named, diminutive Glaswegian Armando Iannucci has a decorated track record as the driving force behind some of the finest British comedy of the last fifteen years. Co-creator of faux news program The Day Today (think The Daily Show but played absolutely straight), Ianucci carved out a niche as a writer/producer of a string of hit projects that began to showcase a pattern – they were surreal, sarcastic and so clever as to be positively intimidating.
Latching onto the mock-doc sitcom style popularized by The Office, Iannucci developed a short run political series showcasing the absurdity of regional government titled The Thick of It (an update of Yes, Minister for the New Labour movement). Transposing that template to the raging sea of International politics, Iannucci’s riotously funny big-screen adaptation candidly reveals that, while the stakes are higher, the games people play are just as familiar.
Centered on the arse-covering antics of Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), In The Loop is a scathing indictment of the moral cowardice and overriding self-interest that has seemingly highjacked the halls of power. Mirroring the preamble to the invasion of Iraq (though no country is ever specifically mentioned), Foster commits that most unforgivable of political sins; he makes a statement that has a clear and identifiable meaning (“War is unforeseeable”) causing all Hell to break loose on both sides of the pond.
In strides parliamentary whip Malcolm Tucker (a memorizing Peter Capaldi) – an angry, sweary, ball-buster who immediately sets about spin control – declaring to the media: “He did not say that. You may have heard him say that, but he did not say that and that is a fact.” Dispatched to Washington to make amends along with foppish, incompetent aide Toby (Chris Addison) Foster suddenly finds himself the hottest ticket in town with everyone from every side clamoring to latch onto his statement – chiefly so they don’t have to go on record with anything of their own and risk blowback. There is also a dodgy dossier selectively carved out from a report outlining the pros and cons of invasion (guess which half gets cut) put together by Anna Chlumsky’s idealistic D.C. aide and abbreviated into some acronym no one can ever remember.
Now in the hands of a Hollywood studio this would surely make for just another dry political thriller where furrowed brows gloomily muse on the unfortunate nature of our times. In the hands of Iannucci it’s a biting, caustic satire built around much frantic walk-and-talk partaken by callow politicians so desperate to avoid taking any kind of position that they might then be required to follow through on with some kind of action. And with that in mind it’s hard not to root for Foster’s entirely unwitting hero. Yes he’s clearly in way over his head. Yes he’s beyond feeble. But he is at least trying to undertake a decision of genuine principle on a difficult subject, something all too rare these days.
Of course with all the backbiting, ego stroking, self-aggrandizement and petty power plays, it’s clear absolutely no one is going to let him. Least of all Tucker who ram-raids every scene like an armor-plated swear box on wheels. Elevating profanity to the level of art form (“Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off!”) he wields a Rolodex of insults (“You, Frodo…Ron fucking Weasley…The baby from Erasorhead!”) for every occasion. The players are all identifiable – Tucker is modeled on former Blair spokesman Alistair Campbell – and there are avatars for Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and anyone else who had a hand is selling us down a river of fabricated brouhaha back then. But really, they could just as well be anybody.
In fact the more anonymous they are the more Iannucci has fun with them. Some of the most wince-inducing scenes come courtesy of Foster’s unsympathetic handler and Chlumsky’s fellow aide, who rib their respective colleagues mercilessly from the comfort and safety of the political fence while keeping one eye open for the next expedient opportunity to latch onto.
While the machine-gun gag rate does dip ever so slightly toward then end as the cement begins to set on Fosters concrete boots, a slightly unnecessary subplot sees one of his constituents back home (a somewhat distracting Steve Coogan) ride him into his political grave on the back of a collapsed garden wall. But by then Iannucci’s message rings in your ears loud and clear.
As funny as it is spine chilling, In The Loop is a shockingly realistic, mercilessly sardonic portrait of political apathy on the part of the very people we elect to govern. It needs to be seen because while bullshit may be transitory, the bullshitters have seemingly taken up permanent residence. And because sometimes swearing really is big and clever.
Starring: Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Gina McKee, Chris Addison, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, Anna Chlumsky
Director: Amrando Iannucci
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Distributor: IFC Films