If religion is the last refuge for scoundrels, then politics is apparently the first stop for callow careerists. Not a particularly new insight, but when it is executed with the razor sharp dialogue and quotable aplomb on display in Armando Iannucci‘s In The Loop, the result is comic genius. It would be one of the most quotable movies this side of The Big Lebowski if it were not for a) Immense profanity and b) context and c) the rapid-fire delivery. The first viewing of the film is a blur particularly due to the latter point, yet the film invites and rewards multiple viewings. Much like the works of the Coen Brothers, this film dances with with English language, both in UK dialects and also the American variety.
Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini (playing against type) may be feature heavily in the State-side marketing materials, but In The Loop is undeniably from the United Kingdom; in particular due to the showcase style of the now familiar style of uncomfortable comedy. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant made the style famous with BBCs The Office, but really, Iannucci pioneered the form on the BBC with both of his Alan Partridge series. Using slightly agitated seek-and-find cinematography, overlapping dialogue (Robert Altman would have loved this flick) and a general vibe of confusion, In the Loop strikes with equal opportunity vigour against the so called political hawks and doves in American politics, but its real target is the career interns and the public communications spin-doctors that seem to get most of the real government work done. And if the intense and ribald Peter Capaldi (here reprising his character from the The Thick of it) is the model, things get done by the tried and true method of intimidation through a sea of abusive (yet clever) verbal assaults and threats. There is a wonderful ensemble doing the tango here (including the wonderful Gina McKee as perhaps the only halfway decent human being here), but Capaldi is the first and foremost reason to jump on the the films schadenfreude express.
All the plots and subplots would be difficult to nail down (the film handles them with a grace, ill afforded in something like this review), but suffice it to say that the UK and the US are on the verge of invading a country in the middle east, and the march of evidence and innuendo in front of political committees is tentitavley building towards action. When a lesser cabinet Minister, Simon Foster (nicked Simon Fluster) is ambushed by questions on the war he replies that he thinks the war is “unforseeable” more or less the opposite of the direction in where the government is going. US Pentagon bureaucrats happen to be in town for meetings on the subject, so thus enter the spin doctors and staffers on both sides of the pond to either run damage control, or take advantage of the ministers comments by “internationalizing” the issue. Foster ends up being railroaded to Capitol Hill and eventually the UN as the momentum to go to war shifts into high-gear. Much like HBOs The Wire, there is time spent with the entire spectrum of politicos, although to preserve the timelessness of the film, Presidents and Prime Ministers are left anonymous and off-screen.
To exacerbate things and simultaneously keep them in perspective, Steve Coogan has a small role as a local in Fosters riding who is miffed that the Fosters aging Northamptonshire office wall is falling into his mothers garden. The local detail offers a rich vein of compare and contrast politics against the main thrust of international skullduggery.
In the Loop is not so much about its furiously elegant plot, which seem complicated at a glance but is really a simple straight line (in the parlance of the film, “easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy”) as it is about the worst in human nature and the scary fact that major historical decisions are potentially made in this fashion, on the back of peoples career ambitions as much as anything else. Easy targets – sure – but artful execution is the thing. I would bet your money that this is the most compulsively re-watchable film to come out of 2009.