Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Directed by Armando Iannucci

Starring Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Steve Coogan

In the Loop is one of the funniest films of the past twenty years, and perhaps one of the greatest satires of all time. That's pretty hefty praise, I'm well aware, and to be honest I didn't assess the film in that manner after the first time I saw it during it's theatrical run. After a second viewing, though, I'm confident that the film is just that good. So what was different the second time around? I was able to watch the movie in the comfort of my own home and pay more attention to the rapid-fire (and endlessly quotable) dialogue and catch more of the blink-and-you'll-miss-them jokes. Without the distraction of audience laughter muffling every other deadly funny line, it was clear that I was watching the smartest, sharpest comedy in quite some time.

The basic premise of the story is this: after making an offhand comment that goes against the party line about a war Britain and the USA may be cooking up, International Development Minister Simon Foster (Hollander) finds himself a pawn used by both British and American politicians. That's the gist of the film. What In the Loop is ultimately about, though, is how those politicians and architects of war have personal lives just as regular folk do. Office politics, sex-drives, misunderstandings, mea culpas, late nights, and raquetball (among other things) are a part of life even for those tasked with carefully pitching the idea of going to war to those who can make it happen. In the Loop is not so much about politics as it is about the politics behind politics. These adult men and women squabble, fight, back-stab, and act petty like most real people do.

What makes In the Loop so great and what it gets right is that the focus is always on the jokes, never on an agenda. Those coming into the film looking for an affirmation of their political views would be wise to drop that attitude before pressing play. One of the observations of the Academy Award nominated screenplay (adapted from the BBC series The Thick of It) is that no matter what side you're on, back-room political machinations have always and will always take place, and are made even more complicated and sullied by human behavior.

And it is in watching these characters behave where In the Loop gives the greatest joy. From James Gandolifini's passive-aggressive General Miller to Anna Chlumsky's young naïve go-getter assistant Liza, to Steve Coogan's frustrated parliament constituent, each actor gets multiple comedic moments and nails every single one of them. Very rarely does a cast as large as In the Loop's stick nearly every funny landing.

The character you'll remember the most after watching the film, though, is the one played by Peter Capaldi. His Malcolm Tucker is viciously caustic, condescending, and insulting yet mines the most laughs from the film. Most of the words that come from his mouth are of the unfit-for-print variety, but it's practically a thing of beauty to listen to the man create new and profane ways to insult people. To paraphrase a line from A Christmas Story, "he works in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay." When Tucker word-spars with people (and that's exactly what he does for most of the movie) the film reaches levels of brilliance that are practically blinding (or deafening, if you're sensitive to cussin').

Director Armando Ianucci chose to shoot single-camera (think The Office) while making the film, and it gives In the Loop a documentary feel. While the style lends a feeling of realism, it also adds a layer of surrealism - it's hard to believe these "professionals" are acting this way. But I imagine it's a fairly accurate depiction of government office life. Spend
any amount of time in any work office and you'll find that no matter how professional grown-ups are supposed to act very rarely do they act grown-up.

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