2009 film, In The Loop
, will not restore your faith in politics through light-hearted farce. It is a bleak political comedy/farce about self-serving British and American politicians in the last days before the Iraq war. Being a political drama, In The Loop
has a plot dense enough to sink in mercury. But Ianucci manages to keep things by and large breezy and humorous – a herculean feat, to be sure.
Despite lacking any kind of spine or sense, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander
) is Britain's Minister for International Development as well as the Member of Parliament for Northampton. During a radio interview, he opines that war is unforeseeable, despite the government's push for military intervention in the Middle East. Enter the ever-furious Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi
), the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, producing the finest strings of threats and obscenities this side of Hunter S. Thompson
. As he's trying to beat Foster back onto the party line, Foster's new assistant Toby Wright (Chris Addison
) shows up with a girlfriend in the Foreign Office (Suzy, played by Olivia Poulet
) and an opportunity for Foster to put his foot in his mouth.
Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy
), the US Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy, singles Foster out as a potential ally and an anti-war voice in the British government. She and Lt. General George Miller (James Gandolfini
) are the two major anti-war voices in the US, and they need all the help they can get. But before Clark can nail Foster down, he goes full “Nazi Julie Andrews” in a surprise interview and gives the war hawks a rallying call – “climb the mountain of conflict.” He catches the attention of the most boring war hawk in Washington, Linton Barwick (David Rasche
), the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy. Tucker fingers Foster as the perfect turd to drop in the anti-war punchbowl. All he has to do is send Foster and Toby the yes-man to the US, and they'll blunder their way into the rest.
The plot culminates at the United Nations building in New York, where our cast is gathered in the hours before the big vote on military intervention. Tucker is scrambling to rig the vote for war. Toby has already convinced Foster to not resign as an anti-war gesture, and Tucker has the BBC frothing at the mouth to cast Foster as “the only political fuck-up visible from space.” Furthermore, Tucker leverages one of Toby's many missteps to get Toby to fabricate pro-war British intelligence, which Tucker presents to Barwick and leaks to the BBC. In the end, the film follows history; the UN approves intervention in Iraq, and the anti-war politicians wind up resigning or languishing in menial positions. Tucker fires Foster on behalf of the Prime Minister and is later seen welcoming a replacement into the fold.
Capaldi steals almost every scene he's in, due in part to a constant stream of obscenities and threats coming out of his mouth – of the film's 135 f-bombs, Capaldi drops 86. But there's more to Tucker than constant anger. On the few occasions that the swearing and threats stop, Capaldi sells the raw dread of a man whose stomach is full of broken glass. Only Gandolfini keeps the spotlight in his scene with Capaldi. Gandolfini's character is solid for most of the movie, but in the scene where he gets to exchange verbal blows with Capaldi, he brings a great level of menace. The rest of the cast is solid and memorable.
Hollander's range was wasted in the Pirates of the Caribbean
movies. Though Hollander plays a damned fool and a bit of an ass to the T, it's still clear that Foster is genuine in his efforts to do right. Addison plays Toby as the perfect target for a heavy-handed slap, showing just enough of a conscience to let viewers hope he'll get it together and make a stand. And Kennedy injects charisma and impatience with unwelcome sexual tension with Gandolfini, while Gina McKee
plays Foster's Director of Communications, Judy Molloy, like she's the only sane person in England – which, in context, is accurate.
But In The Loop's selling point is the relentless humor. Watching Hollander bumble awkwardly is both hilarious and cringe-worthy – take, for instance, when he accidentally asks his limo driver for hookers, then backpedals at highway speeds. And it's hilarious to wonder about what kind of weird world Rasche's character commutes from, where glass offices are for perverts and a woman bleeding from the mouth evokes country music (which he cannot abide). Throughout, the banter is fantastic to the last and not to be missed.
In context, the movie's cynical look at big decision makers is just a little sickening – it certainly makes me queasy. But the whole mess is a hilarious ride with some of the best one-liners and insults to come out of a movie this decade. Ianucci blends British and American humor into the best dressing-down of politics at large I've seen.