REVIEW: In the Loop [2009]

“An anti-war shag?”

There is something about British comedy that resonates with me. I don’t know if it is because we in the States experience so little of it, or maybe because Hollywood rapes and pillages the material for their own water-downed versions, but the humor just seems fresh, uncensored, and hilarious. When I first came across the new political black comedy In the Loop, I will admit to being less than interested. The marketing materials were using the whole Obama silkscreen poster look and I really wasn’t interested in a movie about how the US and Britain decided to go into the Middle East. But then the buzz started. The realization that the film was shot with a penchant for improv, a desire to entertain rather than teach, and a cast of characters looking as though they are in a Christopher Guest movie, soon turned that preconception around. This is a fantastic film that never lets up on the laughs or one-liners. I just hope people go into it knowing that this isn’t how it actually happened … but then who knows? Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

The back and forth dialogue is so quick that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read a quote from the director about it all being about 80-85% scripted. He says that he gave the actors leeway to break course and even do takes without scripts at all, but when culling everything together, most of what stuck actually maintained the verbiage laid out by its five screenwriters. Each of these men, including director Armando Iannucci, has been working with British television and all have collaborated on the show “The Thick of It”. I will say now, if I get a chance to check it out, I most certainly will. Political satire is not necessarily my favorite thing in the world—I’ll watch the odd “Daily Show” episode—but after viewing this laugh-riot, checking out a spoof on the British political system, of which I know very little, could be a ton of fun. Heck, just the inclusion of Peter Capaldi will get me to stop surfing when I reach the BBC. This guy steals the show without question.

Capaldi plays Malcolm Turner, a Brit on the frontline of politics as an aide to the Prime Minister, spinning everything and anything to save face. With no time to spare on his running across the Atlantic to put out fires wherever his compatriots start them, you will have to forgive his abrasive, sarcastic, and just plain mean demeanor. The idea of war is being bandied about on talk shows, behind closed-door governmental meetings, and all over the media machine, and it is up to him to keep a lid on it by walking the party line, neither stating a fight is inevitable or unforeseeable—two terms that the buffoon who is British Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster, played beautifully by the ever capable Tom Hollander, loves to utter. Foster just has to open his mouth to cause a stir felt around the world, and each time, of course, Malcolm Turner is there to chastise and humiliate his stupidity.

The film ultimately revolves around the journey Hollander’s Foster takes in trying to enhance exposure for himself. Partaking in talk shows or talking out of turn when enlisted to just be “room meat”, some of the Americans begin to see him as someone abroad that shares their sentiment that war is a bad idea. While David Rasche’s Linton Barwick—a hardcore proponent of battle, even using a live grenade as a paperweight—forms secret committees to discuss strategies for war, Mimi Kennedy’s Karen Clarke and James Gandolfini’s Lt. General George Miller are looking for ways to get into that meeting and shut it down. As a result, those two dissenters try to get Foster at every event to awkwardly express his stance of war being unforeseeable, hoping to deter any people on the fence that may be in attendance. So, Malcolm must run back and forth through England and DC spinning things his way and lambasting anyone that gets in his line of fire. Either Foster is too oblivious to care about the verbal assaults thrown his way or he just feels he can blame his Director of Communications Judy, who he makes stay at home while he globe-trots with his new young advisor Toby, (Gina McKee and Chris Addison respectively). Toby and Foster are so similar in their awe of America and lack of experience that their adventures make for good cinema, taking camera phone pics out their limo and speaking about getting hookers for the ride.

With a gigantic cast, I need to mention Anna Chlumsky as Clarke’s lackey who wrote a paper on how bad the war would be; Zach Woods as the creepy lurker/brown-nose reminding her about it and trying to work with any politician that will take him; Paul Higgins’ crass and vulgar Jamie MacDonald who makes Capaldi’s Turner look like a saint; and of course Brit legend Steve Coogan back at home dealing with his own war against Foster himself, trying to get a wall fixed before it falls on his mother while she gardens. “Can’t she use a hose and stand back?” “She has a watering can!!” It really is good stuff whether you enjoy the satire connecting it all or not. Just the sheer language and wit will keep a smile on your face no matter what precipitated the argument. No one likes each other, everyone has their own agenda, and blame is passed off as each second passes. Maybe there is more truth to this thing than one would think after all.

In the Loop is expertly acted and, for the most part, I have to credit that to the intelligent script being utilized. Whether the actors are improvising or not, the original text they are sticking to or springboarding from needed to be strong. By using all the jokes and imbecilic actions we associate with politicians, the writers have crafted a plausible, if not entirely idiotic, account of the days leading up to our countries’ joint invasion. Documents are leaked, words are twisted, and supposed partners are stabbed in the back. But through it all we have Capaldi doing his best to keep Britain’s stance as noncommittal as possible. And, truthfully, the way in which he does it makes for what has to be the funniest role of the year. Every word out of his mouth is acerbic and full of double meaning. With the f-word spewing at will and demeaning name-callings going left and right, make sure your head is clear if British speech sometimes troubles you in the comprehension realm. Understanding his words definitely pays off, keeping what would otherwise be a slightly bloated and meandering plot grounded in comedic excellence.

In the Loop 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, Chris Addison as Toby. ©2009 Optimum Releasing.
[2] Mimi Kennedy as Karen Clarke and James Gandolfini as General Miller. ©2009 Optimum Releasing.

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