reviewed by Marc Glassman
In the Loop
Armando Iannucci, director & co-writer w/Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche. Starring: Tom Hollander (Simon Foster), Chris Addison (Toby), Anna Chlumsky (Liza), Mimi Kennedy (Karen), Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker), James Gandolfini (General Miller), Gina McKee (Judy), David Rasche (Linton Barwick), Zach Woods (Chad), Steve Coogan (Paul Michaelson)
You’ve got to give it to the Brits. They create literate, intelligent comedies for TV all the time. The Office is a recent hit but how about Ab Fab? The list seems endless. My favourite is Black Book, a wonderful dark entry set in a bookshop. And certainly one of the best in recent years has been The Thick of It, which is a 21st century version of Yes, Minister and, just like its precursor, pokes fun at the political system in Britain.
Not content with success on the “telly,” The Thick of It’s creator Armando Iannucci has put together a feature dealing with politics in those two great democracies, the U.S. and Britain. In the Loop offers an insider’s perspective on how politics, the media and diplomacy operate today. Working with the same team of writers he uses on the TV show and including the wonderful actors Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison, Iannucci has crafted a vivid and witty satire.
The set-up is well crafted. A Minister of International Development, Simon Foster, misspeaks in an important interview: he says that “war is unforeseeable.” Which it is, of course, but it’s an odd statement for a Minister to make and appears to be something incorrect from his Party’s perspective who send the foul-mouthed Scottish press secretary Malcolm Tucker to keep Simon under wraps.
But in an attempt to extricate himself, Simon tells the media that although peace is desirable, sometimes a government has to climb “a mountain of conflict.” The next thing he knows, Simon along with his assistant Toby are winging their way to America, where both the left-wing peace activists led by Karen Clarke and the right-wing war faction led by Linton Barwick try to marshal the opaque Minister into their camp.
Toby takes up with an old college sweetheart, Liza, who is Karen’s assistant, and has written an excellent report on why the U.S. and Britain shouldn’t go to war. And that document becomes the object of desire for both Linton and Malcolm, both of whom want to move their countries closer to war by suppressing Liza’s report. Meanwhile, Karen and her friend General Miller are fighting an up-hill battle to prevent international conflict. And Simon is, well, conflicted: should he do what his party wants or what his conscience dictates?
Most of In the Loop deals with the day-to-day activities of people working for ministers and the government. Iannucci is excellent at catching the quick barbs, the caustic replies and the endless berating that occurs in the corridors of power. Shot and dramatized in a verité style, his film is funny because it feels so real.
Will audiences love In the Loop? Truth to be told, this film does feel like uber-TV. The plot is dated and would have been smarter and worked better during the heyday of the Bush-Blair engagement in Iraq. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely. Could you wait and see it on DVD in three months? Well, the DVD is “foreseeable.” Up to you, dear viewer!