Starring: Peter Capaldi,Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Gina McKee, Anna Chumlsky, Mimi Kennedy and Steve Coogan
‘Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult’ is just one of the many retorts lingering on the tip of the British public’s tongue, as they go about endlessly quoting from Armando Iannucci’s biting social satire, In The Loop.
Iannuci’s debut feature film is based on the cult BBC programme, The Thick of It. Considered required viewing by snooty viewers across the UK country, the show found popularity for capturing a callous behind the scenes take on the hyperbolic Blair administration. The show runners created a sharp and witty portrayal, depicting a government that seemed wholly preoccupied with its media perception, often inventing whimsical policies to pander to the press and their self-interested allies.
Dictating the administration is the UK Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker, a foul-mouthed, blood-sucking Scottish tyrant, who considers himself God’s gift to the cabinet. With In the Loop, Malcolm Tucker returns and is again played by Peter Capaldi, who is unequivocal in his ability to let rip with non-stop fiery quips that are as hilarious as they are horrifying and cruel. Together, with much of the creative team from the original series, Tucker and Co. decide to tackle a much bigger beast with this film: the U.S. government just as it is building up to an invasion.
The picture begins with Tucker in a violently outrageous hissy fit in the office of Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a government minister who has told the press that he believes that the situation in the Middle East escalating to war was ‘unforeseeable.’ After some coercion, Tucker works out a plan that will help Foster squash his misdeeds. Unfortunately, the minister has a profound ability to speak without thinking, consistently making things worse every time he opens his mouth. His first faux pas begins in a meeting with American Undersecretary Kareen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), who has brought the minister and his aids (played wonderfully by Gina Mckee and Chris Addison) in as political ‘room meat.’
The plot thickens (pun intended). A paper written by Clarke’s assistant Liza (My Girl’s Anna Chlumsky), which claims that the risks of the war far outweigh the benefits, is all of a sudden in high circulation at the U.S. State Department, much to the dismay of Clarke’s superiors. To remedy this, Tucker takes minister Foster and his assistant in to play damage control on the tricky condition that is enveloping the American administration.
Amidst the chaos on screen, there is a standout performance by James Gandolfini who plays a rather unconventional U.S. general who wants to deter the political madness. The tongue and cheek role pokes fun at our preconceived notions of what a hard man war veteran should be like, while also parodying Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, another tough-ass, who was as soft as a baby’s bottom on the inside.
As the dramatic comedy escalates, dirty dealings become exposed. Characters wrestle with personal demons and past lovers, while others battle with ego-fuelled tantrums and reassess their personal and political priorities. If this sounds like serious stuff, well, it is. But instead of dwelling on the overwhelming poignancy of these moments, the filmmakers resort to mockery. In the Loop reveals a government’s absurd political practices and encourages the viewer to realize just how utterly surreal the global political arena actually is. In a day and age where any inconspicuous politician can wreak utter destruction at the press of a button, it is refreshing for the public to stop worrying and to start laughing at the fact. The film takes a step up from the now hackneyed humor surrounding former president Bush by spinning in intellectual nuance.
Undeniably though, the beat of the film arises from the performances. Capaldi, a gifted performer carries the piece with his vitriolic fits of rage. He is a villain, a symbol of all of the things that we hate in society, who ironically also happens to be one of the most relatable characters. Capaldi’s depiction of Tucker has the fervor and guts to say and do the things that many of us are too afraid to say or act upon in conformist society. Watching him on screen, I couldn’t help but wonder how cathartic it would be to extrapolate that insane amount of rage at any given time.
Also of note it is the film’s style–shot using a pseudo-documentary aesthetic, this realistic, generic convention brings an added closeness and immediacy to the picture, immersing us in a world that is consistently under the microscope of round the clock news coverage.
Unquestionably, the movie will put off some audiences, especially some Americans who feel that they might be bearing some of the brunt of the filmmakers’ cutting political humor. But these viewers will be missing the point. This work is about exposing the dirty, conniving underbelly of the political world and finding the courage to sit back and laugh at how odd it all is. In the Loop is an intelligent comedy classic–a hilariously gripping diatribe of our modern times.
*Premiered at Sundance Film Festival, most recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
**On Wide Release in the UK and set for limited release in the USA on July 24th.