In The Loop
“An iron hand in a velvet glove” – this clichéd phrase (attributed to Napoleon) would be an apt description of Scottish writer/director Armando Iannucci’s biting and incredibly funny political satire In the Loop developed out of his award winning British television series The Thick of it. So witty and engaging is the film, it’s not until the screen has gone blank that you realise this buoyant feeling you have is a thin veneer covering more darkly cynical and depressive sentiments.
Imagine, if you can, an unsettled time for the major western powers. An important United States political faction is on the war path and would like to know that its primary international ally will fall in behind when the news goes public. However, there’s a possible hitch in their plans: some of the pertinent Brits are not sure they’re onboard with the whole invasion scheme and neither are a few of the locals. A public stumble by a British Cabinet Minister sees him mistakenly state that war is not on the cards for Britain. On the US side a political aide has even published some research on the topic which suggests war, in this case, would be a bad move. This not so unfamiliar scenario is where Iannucci drops us into the mix, following these bumbling actions of naive and (almost) principled British Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander doing a great job at a man trying to locate his spine), his communications advisors/aides including the likeably amoral new boy Toby (Chris Addison), and the intimidating and giftedly foul-mouthed party official Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) sent to clean up the mess.
Sending up the British and American political process – rather than just particular persons/roles – In the Loop follows the Machiavellian machinations of a hodgepodge mash of politicos and hangers-on drawn together around the charged issue of impending war. As ideals (some firm and some held loosely) clash with the not yet public party line, sparks fly in the meeting rooms and in the surrounding media circus.
Iannucci has pulled together a great ensemble of US and British actors in the key roles as well as the minor/cameo parts; some known (James Gandolfini, Steve Coogan, Gina McKee), some known if you are familiar with the TV series (Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Paul Higgins), and some relatively unknown. In the Loop even features Anna Chlumsky as the promising young US political aide who pens the research document which causes the furore around which the plot develops – that’s right, Vada Sultenfuss from My Girl! The acting is universally on the money, though this is likely helped by the mockumentary nature of the film as well as its relatively high level of collaborative improvisation. Still, all the players, from centrepieces to set dressing, carry their weight admirably.
Inseparable from the performances is the fantastically acid scripting; and there can be no doubt that this is a British film. From the bumbling ingénues to the sycophants gathering round the powerful puppet masters to the superb, creatively offensive one liners of the Brit PMs hatchet man Malcolm Tucker the script speaks to a very British sensibility. In fact Malcolm Tucker’s lines recall the legendary creative insults of Edmund Blackadder penned by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis all those years ago, though they are definitely more R rated constructions! In the Loop’s only noticeable weakness is that it occasionally seems to relish in its semantic cleverness to the point where it becomes a little too self conscious.
Though the film definitely mirrors the actions surrounding the recent US/British decisions to make war on first Afghanistan then Iraq, Iannucci explains in an extra features interview that the situation is meant to act as a more universal model of the complicated mess that are our political systems. These systems are staffed by people like you and me – some are very concerned citizens and some are self serving egotists – but their decisions and actions can have far reaching consequences whether they know what they’re doing or not. The filmmaker illustrates the extent to which random acts influence political outcomes as well as relative impotence of the powerful with a conscience when faced with those who will do anything to achieve their ends. This latter point is summed up nicely in the character of Lt. Gen. George Miller played with right level of frustrated indignation by James Gandolfini. And even though the film leaves you with a bitter mouthful of cynicism, the dish is served hot and a damn enjoyable meal is made of it.
DVD Info + Special Features
This DVD release has a more than adequate video transfer and a fine Dolby Digital soundtrack to go with it. But to be honest, it’s a movie that could easily be enjoyed as much in front of a decent widescreen panel as in a cinema as it’s delights are not found in stunning visual set pieces but in the beautiful writing and execution of the script and screenplay. The extra features make for interesting supplements to the feature: particularly the commentary track and the interviews which talk about the meshing of a readymade television family with new actors/parts for the film and the writing and improvisation process amongst other things. The deleted scenes and Webisdoes are also of interest, though there is much crossover between these two features to the point where perhaps they would better have been combined into one. Overall this is smartly put together single disc release of an excellent film that will benefit from multiple viewings.
Single Disc Edition
Region 4 PAL
16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby 2.0
Language: English (with English captions for the hearing impaired – feature only)
Audio commentary with director and cast
Interviews with stars Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, Chris Addison, and director Armando Iannucci.
UK & US theatrical trailers
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: 13 – Contains offensive language and sexual references.
Duration: 102 mins
Genre: Comedy | Political satire
Director: Armando Iannucci (2009)
Actors: Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, Anna Chlumsky, and James Gandolfini.