In the Loop: Bitter Brit Political Comedy with Bite

07/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


Virtually no one in American film dares to do bleak political satire anymore. It's hard to nail the right tone in such an endeavor. And when filmmakers do, everyone compares them to the impossibly high standards set by Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or the Paddy Chayevsky scripted Network or Wag the Dog or Thank You For Smoking. No wonder the art form has been kicked to the celluloid curb.

This, then, may well explain why British TV director Armando Ianucci used some of his Britcom staff from The Stuff of It to fashion In the Loop, a swift, virulent and richly verbose slam at British and American governmental officials trying to avoid or ensure a joint US-UK invasion of the Middle East.

British Minister for International Aid Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), terrible with a microphone in front of him, tells the media that it is "unforeseen" whether the British government will join the US in its presumed upcoming military invasion of an area of the Arab world that is unnamed. In fact, Ianucci makes the machinations among these wonky weirdos more important than the war's location or, for that matter, the result of the war itself.

10 Downing Street's spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) has a lacerating Scottish viciousness that makes most Mamet characters look like New Age musicians. Tucker threatens to do various sexually violent acts to Foster, who winds up being used by both the hawks in London and surprisingly, two anti-war pols in DC, State Department's Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy) and Army General Miller (James Gandolfini), in stark contrast to Linton Berwick (David Rasche), virtually salivating for a fight.

Razor-wire sharp editing and a team approach to dialogue that is coruscating, eviscerating, keep us in the game, right up to manufactured evidence at the UN, and doesn't that sound familiar? In one of his kindlier moments, Tucker responds to Foster's double-speak, "Climb the mountain of conflict," accusing him of being a "Nazi Julie Andrews." His henchman, Jamie, is just as apoplectic, assuring his boss, "You know me. Kid gloves. But made from real kids."

In fact, a final vitriolic showdown between Ianucci vet Capaldi and Gandolfini is thrilling. Alas, the terrific team dialogue writing of In the Loop utterly usurps the plotting. There are veiled threats about leaking and resigning but Ianucci spends so much time denigrating his paranoid, self-serving characters that we have no one to root for and oh, by the way, no real explanation of who is going to die or why. Not about to blow up the world (as Kubrick, who clearly influenced Ianucci, did), the director and writers decide to simply look the other way, deciding that no one has the courage to do the right thing. They may be mostly right, but they should have the courage to have one of their characters take a stand. It's the wrong ending for this otherwise snarky, smart satire.
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