The one-liners fly off the screen like rapid-fire artillery in the political satire “In the Loop,” triggering long bursts of laughter when they hit their intended targets in the audience. In between those laughs, however, the sobering truth sinks in that the absurdity may not be too far removed from the reality.
“In the Loop,” based on a BBC television program called “The Thick of It,” revolves around the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the British prime minister’s director of communications. He goes ballistic when he learns that the minister for international development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), gave an interview in which he said that a Middle East war was “unforeseeable.”
Malcolm chastises Simon, a rather clueless and naïve politician, because the British government’s official position is that the war is neither unforeseeable nor foreseeable. When he’s ambushed by a pack of journalists later that afternoon, Simon tries to clarify his statement but only digs himself in deeper.
As part of his rambling and incoherent clarification, Simon blathers that in order to achieve peace it is sometimes necessary to “climb the mountain of conflict.” A press hungry for the latest sound bite seizes on his phrase as an indication that the British government is considering military action. Malcolm later berates him for sounding like a “Nazi Julie Andrews.”
However, Simon’s sound bite has apparently caught the attention of the prime minister, who wants to send him to a high-level meeting in Washington, D.C. – at least that’s what Malcolm tells Simon – to set things straight. Accompanied by his press assistant Toby (Chris Addison), Simon soon finds himself caught in the middle of two factions.
On one side, there’s Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who favors war and has created an innocuously named “future development” committee – a euphemism for a war committee – to push the conflict. On the other side is Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and Lt. Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini), who are trying to stop the rush to war. Miller laments the eagerness of civilians like Barwick to go to war when they have never seen it firsthand. Once you’ve gone to war, he tells Clarke, you never want to go back. It’s “like France,” he deadpans.
The two share a hilarious scene where they meet during a social function and sneak away to a child’s room to discuss the war. Grabbing a child’s calculator from the floor, Miller tries to figure out the number of casualties while the calculator plays zany sound effects. The lieutenant general estimates 12,000 casualties, but more soldiers will be needed. “At the end of a war, you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you’ve lost,” he explains.
The movie has no redeemable characters. Many are incredibly manipulative to pursue their own agenda. Barwick, for example, edits the minutes of a meeting because, as he explains it, they shouldn’t reflect what was spoken but what was intended to be said. Others, like Simon, are dimwitted politicos who are in way over their heads. The film is a biting satire of political leaders more concerned about themselves and their careers rather than what’s in the best interest of their constituents.
The movie is filled with profanity and vulgar references, particularly as spouted by Malcolm. He’s a bully who uses verbal assaults to intimidate others. When asked by Lt. Gen. Miller if he’s ever killed anyone, Malcolm says he prefers to maim people psychologically. In contrast to Malcolm, Barwick frowns on the use of profanities, intimidating others with a smug and self-righteous superiority.
“In the Loop” wisely never says to what war we’re advancing, but it’s clear that the run-up to the Iraq War was the inspiration for the film. By omitting that detail, the movie has a universal feel. It reminds us not only of where we’ve already been but where we could go again if we don’t learn from our past mistakes.
MPAA Rating: Unrated. (Reviewer’s note: Frequent vulgar language and some sexuality.)
Director: Armando Iannucci
Writers: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony Roche
Cast: Peter Capaldi: Malcolm Tucker; Tom Hollander: Simon Foster; Gina McKee: Judy; James Gandolfini: Lt. Gen. George Miller; Chris Addison: Toby Wright; Anna Chlumsky: Liza Weld; Mimi Kennedy: Karen Clarke; David Rasche: Linton Barwick; Olivia Poulet: Suzy; Steve Coogan: Paul Michaelson; Zach Woods: Chad.
Michael Leathers the copy editor for EthicsDaily.com and the former editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.