- Rated NR
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All photos © IFC Films
Reviewed by Bob Westal
n the Loop" is a broad and harsh satire in which the feckless and self-serving behavior of political operatives in Britain and the United States threaten to lead inexorably to a completely needless war. To all appearances, the war is not waged for any logical reason, but only to further the personal agendas of a few ego-addled politicos. Farfetched, isn't it?
Directed by acclaimed British TV comedy veteran Armando Iannucci ("I'm Alan Partridge"), "In the Loop" is largely an extension of the 2005 miniseries, "In the Thick of It," with the Oscar-nominated screenplay penned by Iannucci and a quartet of writers from the series. And so, "In the Loop" borders stylistically on mock-documentary. However, if it were an actual documentary, it would be in the category of, "I could send you a screener, but then I'd have to kill you." It's a real worm's-eye view of the rush to a war of (poor) choice.
The bulk of "In the Loop" is comprised of an ill-fated trip to America by a dull-witted, self-deluding British cabinet minister (Tom Hollander) who has gone seriously off-message in the highly codified speech of politics by stating that a prospective Middle East war is "unforeseeable." He and his smarter, but not necessarily more principled or astute, new right hand (Chris Addison) are dogged by a seemingly unstoppable emissary/hatchet man for the Prime Minister – one part Rahm Emmanuel, one part foul-mouthed piranha (Peter Capaldi). His main weapon in the art of the possible: viciously obscene verbal brute force. Meanwhile, a herd of irredeemably pompous Americans are playing a game of bureaucratic hide-and-seek as a venally oblivious Donald Rumsfeld-like mucky mucky (David Rasche) tries to keep a skeptical State Department emissary (Mimi Kennedy), a cynical press operative (Gina McKee), and a sensibly war-wary general (James Gandolfini) from knowing anything about his plans for an invasion.
Even more than other political satires, finding an admirable character among the very large cast of "In the Loop" can be a real challenge – though there are some mild surprises in that regard. Still, the tone here is in many respects even darker and more cynical than its main cinematic forbear, "Dr. Strangelove." While some characters in Iannucci's less apocalyptic satire have their good, or at least non-evil side, none emerges as sympathetic as the heroic, if absurdly plummy, Colonel Mandrake or the decent, if absurdly ineffectual, President Merkin Muffley.
Still, as un-admirable as the cast of characters might be, the cast of actors playing them is consistently strong. In the relatively thankless role as the audience's relatively sane surrogate in the madness of state, Chris Addison does fine as a less than admirable straight man to Tom Hollander's cabinet member, who is to politicos as Nigel Tufnel is to rock guitarists. As the film's only "name" actor, James Gandolfini does first-rate work as the somewhat Colin Powell-esque celebrity general, exuding a not quite incorruptible level of basic human decency combined with a certain degree of very non-New Jersey menace. He shares some priceless scenes with Mimi Kennedy, completely believable as the tragically neurotic state department official. Another example of great teamwork comes in scenes between Zach Woods as an obsequious ultra-wonk often engaged in pitched verbal battles with Gina McKee's slightly more well-rounded functionary. An appearance by Steve Coogan as an aggrieved English constituent is amusing, but doesn't really add all that much to the film as a whole. It's a very minor flaw.
"In the Loop" is part of a sort of mini-trend among intelligent new comedies that are extremely funny and highly entertaining, yet straddling the fine edge of complete despair. (I'm looking at you, "A Serious Man."). While Armando Iannucci's first feature film partakes somewhat in the antic spirit of the Marx Brothers' and Leo McCarey's "Duck Soup," there may be much hilarity here but with a sense of brimstone-laced anger that might have made Groucho himself think twice.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The only special feature worth mentioning here is a series of funny deleted scenes that those who enjoyed the film will definitely want to take a look at. A "behind the scenes featurette" is not much more than a promotional spot. If enough DVDs sell, maybe we'll eventually get a second edition with the commentaries "In the Loop" cries out for.