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Film Review: In The Loop

In The Loop (2009; Directed by Armando Iannucci)

Despite frequent instances of foul-mouthed inspiration, Armando Iannucci’s biting, pitiless political satire doesn’t quite add up to the kind of wide-ranging critique of those who make public and foreign policy that it is attempting to achieve. In The Loop is most definitely a whirling expose of a world where vicious pitbulls stay ahead and decent conscientious actors are shuffled violently offstage, and its wit is more than often jagged enough to draw blood, but its insight is as superficial as it is cynical.

You said bad words! Meanie!

Although this is a full cast list with many interlocking and interacting personalities, the central vicious pitbull and conscientious actor, respectively, are the British Prime Minister’s Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and MP Simon Foster (Tom Hollander). The wankly nebbish Foster sets the wheels of the plot in motion by producing a few stumbling soundbytes on an impending war in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (the Bush-Blair intervention in Iraq is the obvious reference point). These quotes, despite being highly equivocal (the initial “war is unforeseeable” is certainly that, though a later metaphor about “climbing the mountain of conflict” is perhaps leaning towards a more hawkish tone), are seized on by pro-war agitators in the government of America, who are arranging the deck chairs for an imminent invasion.

Tucker, a flame-throwing Scot who speaks pretty much entirely in creative, obscenity-laced insults (Capaldi relishes every nasty syllable), starts off working against military action before colluding with a supercilious State Department bureaucrat (David Rasche as an evidently conservative chickenhawk who keeps what he claims to be a live hand grenade on his desk) to manufacture the shady war in question. There’s also another US appointee (Mimi Kennedy) working against them, supported not-so-ably by her assistant (Anna Chlumsky), who has written a derided (but feared) policy paper arguing against armed intervention, and an imposing anti-war general (James Gandolfini), who occupies the Colin Powell role in this particular orbit.

The friction created by these characters can be entertaining enough, but the lean satire of the rush to war in Iraq is saddled with less lithe subplots. Much of the film is filtered through a floppy-haired beanpole Special Advisor to Foster (Chris Addison), a fount for inadvertent press leaks whose relationship with another press agent (Olivia Poulet) is sundered by an inebriated dalliance on a state trip to Washington. There’s also a goof on local constituency politics featuring a collapsing wall and Steve Coogan in a skull cap (proving that not only American films can find ways to waste his talents) that snowballs into an unlikely scandal for Foster, which proves quite useful for blackmailing purposes when he chooses to resist the rush to war.

Perhaps it is In The Loop’s uncompromisingly cynical view, its complete certainty of the inevitable corruption of power, that defuses the ringing, caustic wit of its dialogue. Perhaps its exceedingly rare sympathetic figures are too foolish and pathetic to earn our compassion as they are torn down by their less scrupulous peers (you feel none of the grudging kinship for the characters that was engendered in the far superior and much funnier Four Lions, which was also co-written by two of this film’s screenwriters, Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell). Or maybe it reaches for too many brass rings of satire and loses focus on the promising target of the political selling of the Iraq war. Whatever the reasons for doubt are, and as sharp and funny as it can be in individual moments, In The Loop is not quite the razorwire satire it sets out to be. Unfortunate, because all of the components are in place and the fuse is lit, but the explosion never quite goes off.

Categories: Film, Politics, Reviews
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