Movie Review: In the Loop (2009)

Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison in In the Loop
Photo: IFC Films

The villain/hero of In the Loop is not so much a who as it is a what, and even that what can’t be clearly defined as director Armando Iannucci and a staff of five talented writers pieced together one of the most smartly written and superbly executed political comedies I have ever seen, if not the absolute pinnacle of the genre. It’s not often I watch a movie and feel confident in saying it is “the best” or “one of the best” of anything, but without a doubt In the Loop is one of the best comedies I have ever seen and one that does not get old (I have seen it three times now). However, do not wait to watch it on DVD. It is meant to be seen with a large audience, all of you laughing so loud you miss the next punch line and when you do, the words aren’t the only thing making you laugh as it just as easily could be a noisy metal sculpture proving there isn’t a single detail that is overlooked.

In the Loop is a satirical look at the British and U.S. governments as the threat of an impending war with an unspecified Middle Eastern country looms largely. Sending things spiraling out of control from the outset is British Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) who gets a question on war during a radio interview while in the middle of discussing the effects of diarrhea and declares that at this point “war is unforeseeable.” When told this just won’t do he tries to “explain” his statement in an off the cuff interview and digs himself even deeper saying, “To walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict.” It’s a phrase soon adopted by Linton Barwick (David Rasche), one of two competitive U.S. state department heads and one that will haunt him for the rest of the film as two governments come together with hardly a goal in sight, but something must be accomplished.

Political maneuvering, questionable tactics, the falsifying of documents and closed-door discussions are all part of the fun as the real highlight of this film is the dry wit and profanity-laced humor that is sure to be the only thing that could possibly cause an audience member to not like this movie. If you are offended by the word “fuck” and not interested in hearing it over, and over again don’t even bother with In the Loop because it only gets worse from there as British press officer Malcolm Tucker, played to absolute perfection by Peter Capaldi, is a wordsmith when it comes to cutting down the opposition, or a subordinate that has either failed to walk the line or made the mistake of being within earshot when he goes on one of his tirades.

Strangely enough, when Malcolm isn’t busy being the villain he also comes as close to a hero as this film is going to get as Capaldi’s performance and the words he’s given to work with can actually cause you to feel sad for the man as he is obviously overcompensating for some sort of self esteem issues. So when he is telling Simon, “I will marshal all the media forces of darkness to hound you into an assisted suicide,” you can’t help but laugh even though what you are laughing at is truly awful.

This film doesn’t stop there, though, as a fleet of talent surrounds this picture including James Gandolfini as General George Miller who, while in a discussion on the number of troops needed in the Middle East with U.S. state department head Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), uses a child’s toy to calculate the number of troops and for emphasis drops a little wisdom saying, “At the end of a war you need a few soldiers left or it looks like you lost.” Like I said, smartly written.

Phrases such as “I hate hookers, not in an aggressive way, but no thank you,” are uttered as Foster and his aide (Chris Addison) enjoy their first American motorcade and “You may not believe that and I may not believe that, but it’s a useful hypocrisy,” is uttered in a conversation at the United Nations just before war is about to be declared.

But don’t confuse In the Loop with some kind of message-based war film even though it is littered with assumed incompetency on a very serious subject. This is a comedy painted with broad strokes as it bounces from one side to the other making sure no one is safe from the crossfire. Infighting and backstabbing are commonplace, as state department aides Chad (Zach Woods) and Liza (Anna Chlumsky) never miss an opportunity to zing one another and you never know when a fax machine will get an all-out thrashing.

If you enjoyed the BBC’s “The Office” then this film is a no-brainer, must-see and you will be kicking yourself if you miss it. Very much like “The Office,” you will find yourself laughing hysterically, but occasionally feeling ever so slightly uncomfortable. While there are plenty of smiles to go around the end result can be looked at as quite dark, especially depending on how close to real life you assume this satire to be. However, the laughs are too many to count and seeing it on the big screen will only enhance your viewing. Seek it out and don’t wait for it on DVD, you’ll be thanking me in the end.