In the Loop


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
In the Loop

In the Loop
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

The leaders of the United States and Great Britain are ready for war. However, not everyone on both sides of the pond agrees with the President and Prime Minister. The Brit Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), for one, thinks that war is “unforeseeable.” His foul-mouthed colleague, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), does not agree with Simon and they travel to America to set things in order to be “In the Loop.”

Robin:
Based on the popular BBC Four television program, “The Thick of It,” series director Armando Iannucci takes the helm in the feature length reprisal in a dark, profane and funny satire that will be a bit hard on those with sensitive ears. Particularly, Peter Capaldi, reprising his series role as Malcolm Tucker, gives an over the top performance as a high-ranking Brit bureaucrat concerned only with towing the party line, even if it means starting a war that nobody wants. Tucker takes swear words to new heights of shock and amusement.

Simon is ordered to take a delegation of two (he and advisor Toby Wright (Chris Addison)) to Washington to get on a secret committee that is planning a war in the Middle East. Meanwhile, a young American functionary, Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), has produced a research paper that disdains the idea or necessity of the war. What ensues is a power struggle between those of common sense and peace and the warmongers looking for the taste of blood. The result is a whirlwind comedy that has the feel of an old-fashioned drawing room farce that has gone wacky.

Joining the main characters is James Gandolfini as American General George Miller, a prominent Pentagon official who eschews the plans for war. Mimi Kennedy is Karen Clarke, an Assistant Secretary of State bucking for promotion no matter who she steps on. David Rasche, as Linton Barwick, is an ambitious State Department official in charge of the so-called secret war committee who keeps a live hand grenade as a paperweight on his desk. They, among the many other characters, lend to the darkly hued comedy and its bitter satire, but it makes you laugh, too. It is blatant that the story parallels the wars against Saddam Hussein and, despite the serious subject matter, make it funny.

Iannucci leads his teams before and behind the camera in a tightly reigned choreography that lays bare the consequences of starting a war that no one of sane mind would want. A solid cadre of filmmakers joins the players and keeps the story and humor moving at a breakneck pace that never bores and always amuses joins the fine cast. “In the Loop” is a political satire and that is a rare thing these days. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Unforeseeable - Definition:  [adj]  incapable of being anticipated; "unforeseeable consequences"

The British Prime Minister's Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, "Local Hero," "The Thick of It") arrives at work one morning to be greeted by the impromptu, on the street interview of Minister of International Affairs Simon Foster (Tom Hollander, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Valkyrie"), who fumbles with a statement about war in the Middle East being 'unforeseeable.'  No matter that this statement doesn't mean anything, it's all about how it sounds, and the spin doctors on both sides of the pond will jockey their second tier staffers every which way to ensure that they are "In the Loop."

From 2005 to 2007, cowriter/director Armando Iannucci produced nine episodes of a television show about Blair's government called "The Thick of It" for the BBC. With "In the Loop," Iannucci has made a feature film version with some of his show's stars returning (notably Chris Addison and Capaldi) that is both hilarious and horrifying as we watch one hawkish American, David Rasche's ("United 93," "Flags of Our Fathers") Linton Barwick, manipulate the middle layers of two governments into a war neither country wants.  Sound familiar? (An American version of "The Thick of It" actually got to the pilot stage in 2007 with Iannucci exec producing and Christopher "Best In Show" Guest directing his own regulars Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins with Oliver Platt thrown in for good measure but the show was never picked up for American television.  It is a sad state of affairs.)

After jump starting with Capaldi, the film's ace-in the hole who makes profanity poetic, a form of behind-closed-doors political 'slamming,' Iannucci turns his attention to the central character who acts like the naive spoke in the wheel.  Toby Wright (Chris Addison, "The Thick of It") walks to his first day on the job in Foster's office with his girlfriend, Suzy (Olivia Poulet, "The Thick of It"), the assistant to another, senior PM, Michael Rodgers (James Smith, "The Thick of It"), and what a first day it is!  No sooner is he being introduced to Foster by Foster's harried Director of Communications Judy (Gina McKee, "Notting Hill"), than he is being told in no uncertain terms to 'F*^& off' by the belligerent Tucker who is intent of having Foster for breakfast.  Toby retreats, makes a phone call to Suzy, and smugly informs Foster that he's gotten him into a U.S. summit planned for the next day with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Policy, Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy, TV's "Dharma and Greg," "Erin Brockovich"), but Foster is only being used as 'meat in the room.'  Nonetheless Clarke shines attention upon his remark of the previous day and Foster waffles, as is his wont, looking foolish as he does so.

Things escalate when Foster and Toby leave Judy behind for a boondoggle in D.C. planned by Tucker to shut them up.  Toby is old college friends with Clarke aide Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky, "My Girl"), who is getting her own blast of unwanted attention due to her report “Post War Planning: Parameters, Implications and Possibilities” which has already got itself an acronym ­ PWPPIP.  He unwittingly leaks information about Barwick's secret war committee to CNN and the next day there is far more meat in the room than Barwick had anticipated, including Clarke's dovish Pentagon pal Lt. Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini, HBO's "The Sopranos," "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"). Barwick even has Tucker flustered, and has Foster's latest flub about 'climbing the mountain of conflict' posted in his office.  And in spite of this global political circus, Paul Michaelson (Steve Coogan, "Hamlet 2") a rural constituent of Foster's worried about a retaining wall which might fall on his mum while she's watering her garden, could prove his biggest threat of all.

Iannucci sets his pace at whirling dervish and his tone at outrageous and never lets up, leaving his audience to hang on for the satirical ride of a lifetime.  Pay attention and the film is not hard to follow, but there is so much going on "In the Loop" is sure to be a repeat entertainment provider.  The cast has been beautifully chosen.  "Thick of It" veteran Peter Capaldi has the long-limbed, flapjack body language of John Cleese and dizzying delivery. His is a great comic performance and it is hard to believe this is the same guy who played Peter Riegert's lovestruck assistant in "Local Hero."  Also outstanding is Kennedy as a woman who thinks herself up to the game and the chameleon-like Hollander as the deer in the headlights unable to focus on anything but his own very tarnished image.  Addison is likable as the misstepping greenhorn and Enzo Cilenti ("Millions," "Next") is hissable as Barwick's obsequious aide Bob.

"Thick of It" writers Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche have crafted a savvy piece of political satire that is strong on character.  The writing sessions that produced such lines as 'they're kids in D.C.. like the kids in "Bugsy Malone with real guns' and 'You are my Kunta Kinte' must have been a heady laugh riot indeed.  The writing and direction flow so well, the film never feels episodic nor does it show its television roots in anything but the "Office" style roving docu-camera (characters here do not address that camera, however).

"In the Loop" is a laugh out loud and often film that makes biting commentary on how the political arena is too tough for anyone without self-serving survival instincts.  Even if we put the right person in office, the system itself will prove a formidable foe.

A-
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