In the Loop
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Set during the fictionalized preamble to a UK-backed American invasion of a nameless Middle East nation, In the Loop makes somewhat familiar points with a degree of sharpness and intelligence that no other Bush 'n’ Blair-era satire managed. Arriving now, it seems something of a facile throwback to days when the lines in the sand were more clearly drawn. Still, it proves more astute and clever than many of its clumsy contemporaries (W., Burn After Reading, War Inc., Team America), which owes partially to its Brit-centric perspective (and attendant comic sensibilities) and TV show origins.
In the Loop is essentially a feature-length reunion for the principal cast and creators behind the BBC television show The Thick of It (2005-07), which turned Britain's municipal, regional and national politics into an Office-style mockumentary. Here, director Armando Iannucci and company turn their quick-clipped ensemble chops from domestic policy to foreign relations, specifically the apparently inevitable road to engagement in the Middle East opened by Minister for International Development Simon Forster's (Tom Hollander) statement during a radio interview that war is "unforeseeable." That vague comment sets off a battle between the pro- and anti-war factions in the British and American foreign policy and military communities, all of whom storm through each others' offices armed with similarly ambiguous evidence and absurdly acronymed research papers ("PWPPIP" being the film's most quoted piece of poli-sci scholarship).
The cast's move stateside brings The Thick of It mainstays — like Peter Capaldi, as the spectacularly scrappy and poetically potty-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, Director of Communications for the British Prime Minister, and Chris Addison as the lovably bumbly up-and-coming advisor Toby Wright — into the cabinet meetings, cafeterias and press conferences of a new set of American power players. These include Mimi Kennedy channeling Frances McDormand as diplomacy expert Karen Clarke and James Gandolfini as cuddly General Miller.
The cast of assistants and interns — the bickering duo of Anna Chlumsky and Enzo Cilenti especially — milling about these entrenched politicians looking for brownie points will remind you of those policy-junkie freshman acquaintances you politely avoided for the rest of your college career. More than the easy points In the Loop scores by pitting warmongers against our lovable (if hapless) pacifist protags, its vision of politics as a game of media puppetry, spin and public perception rings true. Looking the part, it seems, is tantamount to getting the part — a sad reality underlined when Tucker storms out of a briefing with a 20 year-old White House staffer.
Such jokes, though surely still relevant, and delivered with the madcap breathlessness of Christopher Guest and Stephen Colbert doing classic Monty Python skits on Arrested Development, feel distinctly 2007 (2003, even). Whether an allusion to the war in Iraq or a prediction about Iran, In the Loop's versions of American and British politics don't quite match up. It's hard to fault such a tight, incisive and rewarding comedy when its peers leave so much to be desired. Still, making fun of American politicians for their regressive naiveté rings false in the post-Bush era of Obama.
Likewise, the passing of British power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown doesn't seem to have registered, and though neither former head of state figures in In the Loop, the policies that trickle down to their peons remain couched in the ideologies of previous administrations. Slightly retro reference points aside, Iannucci's feature-length expansion of his BBC comedy works where so many satires of contemporary politics feel like padded-out SNL sketches — it also features what is surely the best office equipment beat-down since Office Space's photocopier assault. In the Loop is enjoyable to no end — clearly not a photocopy of its American counterparts — yet feels oddly out of the loop.
Opens July 24
Previously: Henry Stewart's review from Tribeca