Six years ago, Armando Iannucci's slick and merciless political satire might have drawn more blood, but even now it blows away the recent satiric competition with its sharp, sardonic screenplay and uncompromising cynicism. A Wag the Dog, or maybe even a Dr. Strangelove, for the Iraq War, it goes behind the scenes at 10 Downing Street and in Washington, DC, to show how non-existent data and deceptive semantics can be twisted into the deaths of thousands by the ruthless and feckless.
In the Loop | Directed by Armando Iannucci | Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, and Tony Roche | with Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, David Rasche, and Steve Coogan | IFC Films | 106 minutes
Loop dreams: Armando Iannucci and the future of political comedy. By Peter Keough.
In the second category is Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a chipmunky ministerial non-entity swept up in the crisis by a slip of the tongue. Cornered by a BBC radio interviewer during a discussion of diarrhea in Africa and compelled to comment on rumors of a possible Iraq-like invasion, he says that "war is unforeseeable." This meaningless sound bite becomes a rallying point for hawks and doves and fresh meat for an insatiably superficial media; the latter prod Foster into further verbal folly when he mutters, "Sometimes on the road to peace, we must climb the mountain of conflict." He's like a malignant Chauncey Gardiner from Being There, or, as Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) the PM's Minister of Information, sputters, "a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews!"
But Foster's no match for Tucker, a foul-mouthed Scottish bully who's like Trainspotting's Begbie with a suit and tie and attaché case. At first Tucker tries to stifle the inadvertent loose cannon, but soon he sees him as a potential asset in the PM's collusion with US administration neo-cons and hawks in building a case for war. Among the hawks is Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who's like a more genial John Bolton. Meanwhile, the few dovish American officials, who include a smug James Gandolfini as a scatologically droll Army general, ponder ways to exploit Foster's all too willing corruptibility.
Iannucci relates these shenanigans with a fluid, pseudo-vérité hand-held camera, rapid-fire dialogue (some of the funniest this year), and abrupt cuts that veer in artistry from the elegance of Robert Altman's The Player to the mannerisms of a sub-par episode of The Office. (In theLoop is in fact derived from Iannucci's BBC series The Thick of It.) The snark percolates non-stop, and everyone shares in it; an odd exception being Steve Coogan, unfunny as a querulous bumpkin. This can get a little cloying. When everyone is in on the joke, at least to a certain extent, the irony stretches thin. Whereas in Dr. Strangelove the characters are all dumb and malevolent or ineffectual and well-intended, no one in In the Loop is innocent. They're all cynics out for their own advantage, though they seldom recognize the best way to go about it.