Director: Armando Iannucci
Writer: Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander
In the Loop is an excellent British comedy, which satirises the political machinations that lead to a declaration of war. It is based on a television series, The Thick of It, which I have not actually seen. The film in no way suffers for it, and I understand that it is supposed to stand entirely alone. Armando Iannucci, along with his fellow writers, picked up a fully-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, and it was good to see him get that kind of recognition.
The lyricism of the script, and the delivery of the lines, is brilliant. Swearing so prolifically is rarely done and has never sounded so good. Peter Capaldi’s character, Malcolm Tucker, is wonderful in this respect, swearing relentlessly, but doing it with such creativity that it becomes an art-form. Capaldi is a good actor too, and gets the chance to demonstrate plenty of depth as the story progresses.
The entire cast give strong performances, but the main protagonists are Toby Wright (Chris Addison), who plays a junior advisor with plenty of connections, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a Cabinet minister, who is best described as Clegg-esque (co-incidentally, as the film was made well before anyone really knew who Nick Clegg was), the peace-loving General George Miller (James Gandolfini), and Linton Barwick (David Rasche), a senior US politician, who is politely demanding a war. The characters come together, pushing in different directions, towards or against the war to different extents.
It makes for a brilliant political farce, as we are shown how the most minor characters and unimportant members of government can become embroiled in key decisions with global implications. Simon Foster is one of the most important actors in all of this, invited into the argument because of a gaffe made on a local radio station that brings him into line with the thinking of the anti-war crowd in Washington. It is great to watch him attempt to deal with the unexpected responsibility; one of the film’s genuine laugh-out-loud moments occurs when he is called upon to divulge his opinion to a crowded room and can only say the situation is “difficult, difficult, lemon difficult”.
The contrasts between the British and American way of doing things is also well put together, and the contrasting pressures from inside the constituency and the wider political world are well-drawn. Unfortunately, Steve Coogan’s role as an irate member of Foster’s constituency is a distraction. He seems a little unreal and comic, while the other characters are played dead straight. It’s a minor problem, but breaks the spell a little.
The film looks good, showing a political environment without much glamour. The visuals have a documentary feel, away from the pomp you would normally associate with political drama. It is a style which matches the message. Like all good satire, the film is made with an angle, but it is not in the least bit overbearing. We can think about it, or simply laugh at it. Both are good reasons to watch it. Another is the wonderful image of James Gandolfini calculating, on a pink toy computer, the number of soldiers that will be die as a result of the decision to go to war.