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Entries in In the Loop [2009] (1)

Thursday
Feb112010

In the Loop, 2009 (Home Video Review)

F@#&ing Brilliant!

On the opposite end of the spectrum from The Room is In the Loop, a brilliant political satire by director Armando Iannucci and an army of screenwriters. The film is based on a BBC television series called The Thick of It, which I haven’t seen, and chronicles the snowballing screw-ups in the British and American governments that lead to war in the Middle East. It’s a fictional account, and deals in generalities as far as the year and geography of the conflict, but In the Loop is a contemporary fable about good intentions and bad governance.

The film opens with the Minister of Communications, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) taking heat for an interview he’d given in which he denounced claims that war was brewing. His aides and superiors are flustered and in full damage-control mode when Simon decides to give a follow-up statement to a gaggle of reporters; his lack of a prepared statement—or even an idea as to what his real thoughts on the matter are—leads to another gaffe (“In order to walk the road of peace, sometimes we must be ready to climb the mountain of conflict”). Simon’s anti-war stance attracts the attention of U.S. Senator Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), who plans to use him as leverage in stopping a Washington war hawk named Linton Barwick (David Rasche) from starting a war committee.

From there, In the Loop explodes with sub-plots and supporting characters who all get ground up in the march to war. One of the things I love about this movie is that it’s a government drama in which we never see the President or other world leaders making big decisions; it showcases just how many earth-moving ideas are formulated and executed in the lower, unseen levels of the bureaucracy. There are back-room deals and double-crosses, love affairs and bloody mouths all over the place and, though farcical, this film depicts the pluses and minuses of modern politics.

Did I mention that it’s extremely funny? Okay, maybe you won’t laugh out loud a lot (though I did), but the rapid-fire dialogue and the manic actors who speak it create a dizzying atmosphere of parody and exhilaration that I haven’t seen since Alec Baldwin’s cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross. The dialogue is the heightened, perfect speech of brilliant movie characters; the zingers and insults are bone-breaking (or, as my wife put it, “Gilmore Girls on crack”).

I appreciate a movie that rewards intelligent audiences. While a base knowldege of world affairs would be helpful, In the Loop gives viewers everything they need to know to keep up. The key is keeping up. There are many different accents and fragments of slang flying about here, and they're often servicing story points that, if one isn't paying attention, can disappear in the course of a "Huh?" This is the anti-blockbuster. It invites you to engage your brain and appreciate solid writing and outstanding performances, rather passively accept pretty 3-D aliens and explosions as default quality entertainment.

The standout in the cast of great performers is Peter Capaldi as Malcom Tucker. He’s like the British Rahm Emmanuel, running from office-to-office, busting heads and getting things done for the higher-ups. His foul-mouthed diatribes can go on for minutes, and he might be considered a joke if it weren’t for the blackness behind his eyes. Tucker destroys every scene he’s in with confidence and cuss-words, but we do get to see...a “softer side” would be exaggerating, but he does get taken down a few pegs, and I appreciated the extra dimension.

In the Loop is the closest we’re likely to get to a remake of Dr. Strangelove (not that we need one). While it doesn’t end on nearly as dark a note as Stanley Kubrick’s seminal statement on war, this movie examines the absurdity of granting so much power to so few flawed, greedy human beings. It has a slightly less cynical view of government than Strangelove, though, in that we get to see noble (but, again, flawed) people working to make things better. I’m a sucker for smart, well-written political films, and this is the best I’ve seen in awhile.