In the Loop (UK; 106 min.)

directed by: Armando Iannucci
starring: Peter Capaldi; Tom Hollander; Gina McKee; James Gandolfini; Chris Addison; Anna Chlumsky; Steve Coogan
In the Loop

Jason says: "The film opens with the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), flipping his lid because a government minister said that a situation in the Middle East escalating to war was 'unforeseeable,' a dangerously absolute phrase at the best of times and likely soon to be off-message.  He calls this Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) on the carpet and tries to squelch it, but Foster just proceeds to make things worse every time he opens his mouth, especially in a meeting with American Undersecretary Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy).  A paper written by her assistant, Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), which states that the benefits of war are far outstripped by the risks and costs, has started to circulate within the US State Department, much to the chagrin of Clarke's boss, Linton Barwick (David Rasche).  Tucker tasks Foster and his new assistant Toby Wright (Chris Addison) with damage control, but these things are tricky.

"The plot is tangled - the above description does not include James Gandolfini as an American general who, having seen war, is none to keen to see any more, or that Weld and Wright met in college/university, or an absurd subplot featuring Steve Coogan about a crumbling wall in Foster's home district.  That is how it should be, of course - even though we often visualize government as a top-down hierarchy, it is a complex web where the links and relationships between people are often more personal than ideological, and what those people do is often strangely disconnected from their stated purpose.  Director Armando Ianucci and his co-writers do a good job of making their story feel more complex than it actually is:  They avoid unnecessary details that would further complicate matters and do a good job of making sure the audience understands what they need to without slowing down the pace.

"And that's a fast pace, fast enough that missing a joke because one is still laughing at the last one is not terribly uncommon.  The jokes are frequently on the cruel side, with a great deal of humor being mined from Foster's uncanny ability to do the most awkward thing in a given situation, and we laugh both at Foster (or someone else) making the mistake and the long-winded, vulgar, and angry way the likes of Tucker respond to those gaffes.  Much of the movie is a precisely-timed series of incidents that make someone look a fool - precisely timed in that the filmmakers know just how long to let a target have it before the audience starts to feel uncomfortable and excessively sympathetic.  For the most part, they also keep the jokes rooted in politics rather than policy - the comedy comes less from how the man at the top is a destructive moron, but the infighting and bureaucracy in any large organization, and how Washington can leave even Brits confident in their power feeling a little small.

"The main folks in the cast are pretty brilliant, too.  Many parts require swearing, but Peter Capaldi curses like vulgarity and belittling are a musical instrument he has mastered.  Lots of people get the 'casual' part of 'casually offensive' right, but Capaldi manages to make the whole thing work.  Hollander plays Foster as the perfect target, with a blank stare and soft-spoken cluelessness; even when he gets frustrated, he's rather harmless.  Anna Chlumsky and Chris Addison are appealing as the relative newcomers, still idealistic as well as ambitious.  James Gandolfini pulls off a nice combination of higher-minded and smug; David Rasche makes Linton thoroughly amoral, and lets us wonder if he's not terribly bright or just content to please those who aren't so bright.

"The look and feel of the film is similar to something like The Office, not quite pretending to be a documentary, but all handheld cameras in tight spaces, with a somewhat washed-out image.  The film was spun off from BBC comedy series The Thick of It, although I gather that only a handful of characters appear in both, and no familiarity is needed to enjoy In the Loop.  The filmmakers do a nice job with the ending, too, ramping up the cynicism without quite throttling the comedy back to nothing, making us feel something about characters who had been the butts of jokes but not getting overly sentimental.

"During the introduction and Q&A, Ianucci claimed that only a couple bits were based upon actual reported incidents, although the filmmakers would later found out that they had hit close to home in many cases.  Given how selfish, amoral, and/or bungling most of the characters of In the Loop are, that doesn't say much for the way foreign policy is conducted on either side of the Atlantic.  On the other hand, if we get a laugh out of this, then at least some good has come of it. 5 cats

"Seen 24 April 2009 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)"

Thom says: "This spot-on political satire is hysterically funny, & I’m not a fan of the genre, mainly because modern politics are so ludicrous that satire can be overkill. But this is brilliant. It goes back & forth between London & D.C. as various government toadies discuss the possibility of going to war, (Iraq? Afghanistan?) apparently because the Prime Minister & President want it to be a done deal. The language is outrageously scatological and vicious and there isn’t a soul that comes out looking good. They treat war as a commodity rather than a situation where innocent people are killed. Every meeting, altercation political catastrophe is framed with joke after joke whether they are understated allusions to the disparagement and crookedness in the current political atmosphere or incompetence of everybody surrounding the power. The fact that most of the actors (all terrific) are unknown to me helps greatly in appreciating the hilarious goings-on. Everyone should see this gem. I read where this is a spin-off of an UK television nugget called 'The Thick of It.' 5 cats"
Diane says: "After luxuriating in STILL WALKING, I'm out of breath from the crazed pace and nonstop barbs of IN THE LOOP. I've also just come off seeing Tom Hollander as the priggish minister in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and the modeler of bright briefs in BEDROOMS AND HALLWAYS (an old favorite)--here he's a delightful combo of both. Nom for ensemble, definitely, and for screenplay. The dialogue is blistering. IN THE LOOP is so good at turning sense into nonsense that I no longer know what "unforeseeable" means. Note to those who might watch the screener: the watermark obscures important captions. 4 cats."