In the Loop
It’s easy to forget how good us Brits are at dry, witty political satire, what with the majority of local films being made these days having more to do with fluffy romances or muscled, cursing gangsters involved in some kind of heist. But when we put our minds to it, there’s no doubt that the old Yes, Minister-era spark is still there. It’s brilliantly displayed in this film spin-off from the BBC series The Thick of It, which chronicles the life and times of several US and UK government figureheads in the days before the invasion of Iraq.
The film opens at 10 Downing Street, where the Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, brilliantly parodying former Blair Government right-hand man Alastair Campbell) is unleashing a filthy stream of expletives on bumbling minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) for stuffing up a press interview on the impending war. Foster’s foot-in-mouth syndrome leads him into the path of US diplomat Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), who’s looking for a British ally in her anti-invasion stance, and eventually to Washington DC, where he becomes involved in the cold war between Clarke and State Department hawk Linton Barwick (David Rasche). Of course, we all know how it ends, but it’s a bloody hilarious road that sharp comic writer-director Armando Iannucci takes us down to get there.
Apart from The Sopranos‘ Gandolfini, Iannucci’s used a cast of relative unknowns, which, along with the Office-esque hand-held camera techniques, helps create a sense that we really are watching the hidden machinations of a government department. This makes proceedings at once all the more hilarious and uncomfortably close to the bone, particularly when reportedly real occurrences, like Tucker deleting large chunks of an intelligence report right before the UN vote, make their way into the script. Any kind of preachy anti-war message, though, gets drowned out by the continually brilliant laughs that come at you hard and fast from every cast member, most notably Hollander’s toffy nitwit, the superbly foul-mouthed Capaldi and former My Girl child star Anna Chlumsky as a trod-upon personal assistant. The only criticism we could come up with is that the format, while fantastic, is perhaps more suited to its original television medium – although we obviously know where it’s heading, the plot does tend to meander at times, and could be tighter.
Overall, though, In the Loop is home-grown satire at its best – sharp, timely, ironic and intelligent. If you missed it at the cinema, it’s definitely worth grabbing on DVD for the best laughs you’ve had in ages and one-liners you’ll be repeating for weeks.
Interviews and Commentary with Armando Iannucci, Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison and Gina McKee