08/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the Loop

At once biting and hilarious, In the Loop is satire with the ring of truth, a film that manages to put the pin to the hot-air balloon of government and politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ostensibly the adventures of a minor British cabinet minister -- in London, Washington and at the United Nations -- this film by Armando Iannucci is really about the slippery nature of power and its frenemy, fear. Power, as the film hilariously shows, is equal parts perception and bullshit -- and how you wield the latter to shape the former.

Tom Hollander plays Simon Foster, the British secretary of state for international development. As the film starts, he's already in trouble with the Prime Minister's chief spin doctor, the expansively obscene and insulting Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Even as England and the U.S. are debating a military intervention in the Middle East, Simon has made the innocuous remark during a radio interview that "war is unforeseeable."

At a tender moment in Anglo-American relations over this possible invasion, the words are seized upon by hawks and doves alike as proof that Great Britain either is or isn't ready to throw in with the U.S. for a potential conflict. In either case, Malcolm isn't happy at having the water muddied by such an innocuous functionary.

But because of the meddling of a new assistant, Simon winds up in a meeting with Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy). Clarke is a visiting American assistant secretary of state, whose rival in the State Department, Linton Barwick (David Rasche), is pushing for war, even as she's trying to pull back. Simon is meant to be "meat in the room," a warm body there to fill space and keep quiet during a fact-finding gathering. Instead, he winds up injected into the dialogue, which includes an unintentional revelation that Barwick has a secret war-planning committee that Karen is unaware of.

Casually failing upwards, Simon and his assistant, Toby (Chris Addison), are dispatched to D.C. for further meetings with Karen and Linton. Just as casually, the two of them manage unintentionally to light a variety of fuses to the powder keg of war.

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