In the Loop (review)

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Wag the War

It’s one of those laugh-until-you-cry movies, this bitchy, cynical, hilarious sendup of how we end up with wars we don’t want. Like that could ever happen. You don’t want to imagine it could all really be like this, how our elected leaders– no, their unelected underlings shape and massage and mold and just make shit happen. You don’t want to imagine because then it means that those hallowed halls of the White House and Downing Street are more like the halls of high school, where it’s all about who’s got hand and who’s saving face and everyone’s more worried about being popular and maintaining their careers than in doing what’s right or best for their countries.
I’m making In the Loop sound less wickedly entertaining than it is. It’s as if Jane Austen and Monty Python collaborated on an episode of The West Wing: the script — one of the best of the year, by director Armando Iannuci (I’m Alan Partridge) and Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, and Tony Roche — is nonstop sniping in a merciless, take-no-prisoners way, where you miss half the jokes because you’re still laughing from two jokes back. You’ll want to see this with an audience, if you can, but then you’ll also want to see it again alone at home, so you can pause and rewind and go back and make sure that that bit of dissidence you just think you heard is actually there.

“War is unforeseeable,” the British minister for international development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander: The Soloist, Valkyrie) says offhandedly on a radio program. The problem is that war bloody well is not unforeseeable, not with America just itching to invade somewhere in the Middle East and the British government unwilling to piss off the Americas. So the Prime Minister’s director of communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi: Torchwood: The Children of Earth, Bean) is on Foster’s case, trying to get him to backtrack… though of course he can’t say that war is foreseeable either — that just won’t do. “War is neither foreseeable nor unforeseeable,” Tucker tries to explain to Foster, who is completely flummoxed by the concept. As well he should be.

But that’s In the Loop, and it’s only the beginning. Words words words: how they are spun and abused by those in power, how they are used to say absolutely nothing at all, certainly nothing not noncommittal.

Again, though, I’m not even beginning to convey that this is not only wickedly funny but wickedly fast and wickedly mean-spirited. Tucker is the kind of foulmouthed bastard you kinda can’t help but cheer on, even though he’s an absolute monster to everyone around him — his penchant for off-the-cuff nasty nicknames might be his funniest, cruelest aspect, and Capaldi is clearly having a ball with the role.

While you’re still reeling in Tucker’s wake and still cramping up with stomach pains from laughter, the action moves to Washington DC, where doves Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy: Erin Brockovich), a U.S. assistant secretary for diplomacy, and General George Miller (James Gandolfini: The Taking of Pelham 123, Lonely Hearts) are butting heads with hawk Linton Barwick (David Rasche: Burn After Reading, United 93) over the not-at-all-imminent war, which absolutely does not have a secret planning committee dedicated to, you know, planning it. Clark and Miller glom onto Foster, who’s visiting on a fact-finding mission and has now gotten labeled as a dove, thanks to his “unforeseeable” comment… although Barwick has latched onto some of Foster’s backtracking, which has made him sound hawkish.

It’s almost impossible to resist the temptation to simply list all the most hilarious one-liners — like Foster’s infamous backtrack — but you really do need to hear them coming out of the mouths of this universally spectacular cast, which also includes Gina McKee (Atonement, Tsunami: The Aftermath) as an aide to Foster and Chris Addison and Anna Chlumsky as, respectively, underlings to Foster and Clark. And I would hate to ruin those jokes for anyone. But this really is one of those movies that make you want to share all the funniest bits — which is all of them, 90 minutes of them — with everyone.

There’s surely something ironic in the fact that I feel like no words can do justice to In the Loop and its satire on obfuscation, doublespeak, and truthiness — in other words, words, words and their misuse. So see it, and see it again so you can hear it, and make sure someone else is with you, because you’re gonna be saying things like, “You! Ron Weasley!” and “I’m standing my ground on the verge” for weeks afterward.

(available in the U.S. on IFC on Demand)

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Encore Entertainment
Tue, Sep 08, 2009 9:39pm

I need to see this. I like your site, I came across it looking at reviews of Little Children on rotten tomatoes.

Tue, Sep 08, 2009 9:57pm

I’m with you; I fell head over heels for this film. “The White Stripes can leave the room.” hee!!

(Saw it on a weekday afternoon in an Upper West side theatre with an elderly-skewing audience who might not have gotten all the pop-culture refs, but the 30-something guy in front of me and I were rolling on the floor)
fyi, didn’t see it mentioned here but the fantastic Peter Capaldi also played the dad in the Dr Who ep. “Fires of Pompeii”.

Tue, Sep 08, 2009 11:42pm

You had me at “It’s as if Jane Austen and Monty Python collaborated on an episode of The West Wing.”

[head explodes]

Wed, Sep 09, 2009 1:18am

I saw this two weeks ago and LOVED IT. This is MUST SEE stuff. Hysterically funny, topical, to die for. I am a political anglophile so it was right up my alley-especially because there are certain aspects of real British politicos on display (Malcom Tucker is clearly based on Tony Blair’s communications guy Alistair Campbell for example).

I then went directly off to find the series this is based on In the Thick of It on the tubey place-loved and sat and watched all the episodes straight through on a Saturday.

I would have appreciated Peter Capaldi so much more in COE, Fires of Pompeii, even Skins if I had known of his brilliant work on In the Thick of It/In the Loop.

Proper Dave
Wed, Sep 09, 2009 2:44am

You can see more of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, the BBC series this is spun off from. Available from all good UK online retailers.

Proper Dave
Wed, Sep 09, 2009 2:45am

Oh yeah, chiclit just said that. Whoops.

Wed, Sep 09, 2009 8:07am

It was strange to see Peter Capaldi doing the civil servant job in Torchwood and hardly swearing at all. I kept expecting some Malcolm Tucker language to emerge.

Les Carr
Les Carr
Wed, Sep 09, 2009 9:15am

One of the glorious details to emerge about the production of this film (and TV series) is the employment of a “swearing consultant” to energise the dialogue.

You can hear an interview with him on the Guardian newspaper’s website:

It’s perhaps a shame that Google only records the concept “swearing consultant” in conjunction with this film (/TV series). I think that the role should be more widely used, to encourage higher standards of innovatory invective.

Wed, Sep 09, 2009 10:37am

i’ve loved peter capaldi’s work since he was in Local Hero as the scottish linguistics expert who can’t speak gaelic and falls in love with a mermaid. he wasn’t in things that were very visible in the States for many years, but i’m glad to see him coming into his own now. he’s got a very diverse range for such a unique looking man — everything from Charles I in “The Devil’s Whore” to Tucker in this.

Wed, Sep 09, 2009 10:43am

yeah it was well weird in Torchwood wasn’t it

I love Jamie Murray in the thick of it too

I always remember the one about shoving an ipod up your arse and switching it to shuffle.

Is it only the scottish and irish that can swear with such poetry?

Wed, Sep 09, 2009 11:04am

Is it only the scottish and irish that can swear with such poetry?

You should hear Italians and Sicilians. Mind you, it isn’t a national trait in any of these people; this kind of skill only pops up once or twice in a generation. ;-)

I saw this movie on opening day at the IFC. Loved it! My favorite line was the bit about “nazi Julie Andrews”.

stephanie b
stephanie b
Wed, Sep 09, 2009 6:01pm

“Nazi Julie Andrews”? Did he say “Nazi”? I thought he said “Nancy.” Huh. Oh well. I laughed anyway.

“Difficult difficult lemon difficult” has become my favorite phrase I’ve pulled from the movie. Or DDLD for short.

Thu, Sep 10, 2009 2:07am

Armando Iannuci used to have this brilliant comedy show on the BBC in the mid 90’s, so this review comes with no surprise.

It was called the Saturday Night Armastice (though in the second season it moved to Fridays and became the Friday Night Armastice).

There are clips available on YouTube. Just search for the title.

Thu, Sep 10, 2009 6:35am

the day today is brilliant

Chris Morris is fantastic in it (and just generally actually)

Brass Eye is really good too especially the paedophile one!

my favorite Partridge series is the one in the empty travelodge

Sun, Sep 13, 2009 1:12am

Some swearing consultant! I never once heard the word “bloody” from any of the Brits in this movie!

Note: Linton –> Clinton;
Barwick –> Barrick –> Barack!

Sun, Sep 13, 2009 7:07am

Also, Linton –> Lyndon;
Linton Barwick –> LB –> Lyndon Baines (as in Pres. Johnson!)