Movie Review: In the Loop
As Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, “There are known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” Apply that to the secret preparations to invade Iraq – and to the pieties pronounced for bringing Britain along in that invasion – and you have the makings of sick comedy. In the Loop is that.
In the Loop premiered at Sundance, one of the best offerings in a mixed slate at the festival, where participants took a break from political cynicism to watch the Obama inauguration, many of them through tears of joy. With Obama-glow waning slightly, this satire will remind us that political sleaze is as immortal as the cockroach.
British satire takes a trip to Washington DC in this spoof of bureaucratic opportunism, as the US is caught botching a gambit planned to be secret. Expanded from director/writer Armando Iannuccis critically lauded BBC-TV series The Thick of It, In the Loop fills its cinematic backstage maneuverings in the corridors of power with the sorts of schemers who give ambition a bad name. They have Nixons mouth. The inspired script by Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, with additional dialogue by Ian Martin, leavens the backstabbing intrigue with obscenities from the depths of the imagination. No curse is left unuttered.
In the Loop opens in a London office. The Prime Ministers foul-mouthed Director of Communications (Peter Capaldi) chides the Lilliputian new Minister of International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) for his radio gaffe that “war is unforeseeable.” As the screeching enforcer of the British political line, Capaldi is a sinewy Scottish attack dog with no principles. Hollander is perfect as a lightweight with a tin ear and terminal ambition. Who says a farce cant be realistic? Anna Chlumsky, a gifted comedienne, uses her guile as Liza Weld, the State Department aide who seems to have committed career suicide with a memo that told the truth – an anti-war position paper.
The ambitious Simon, nothing if not thick, repeats his “unforseeable” line at a meeting with US officials who hint at the creation of a “war committee” and announce Welds paper. When Simon goes to Washington, the British delegation sees that a nasty pro-war faction led by arrogant Linton Barwick (David Rasche) battles Weld and her State Department boss, Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and ally General Miller (James Gandolfini). Looking for a justification for war, Barwick seizes on an equivocation made by the bumbling Simon to the press, that Britain must be ready to climb the mountain of conflict. Its almost as eloquent as ensuring that “the smoking gun does not become a mushroom cloud.”
If the Condi-style rhetoric sounds hollow, the public service here is worse. Back in England, Simon locks horns with an angry constituent (Steve Coogan) over a crumbling wall. Then news comes that Lizas anti-war paper (and the secret committee) have been leaked to CNN, and the US demands that heads roll – just as a vote for war goes before the United Nations, where no one seems to do anything beside drink champagne.
Iannucci directs the political farce as an extended television comedy, with a relentless pace but plenty of breathing room for office feuds, a fling between Shlumsky and a young Brit publicist, and the potential rekindling of an old romance between Karen and General Miller. I wont give it away, but dont assume that relationships in love inspire more loyalty than they do in politics. If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.