In the Loop (review)

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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