September 3, 2009

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In the Loop (NR)
British and American officials bumble into war in In the Loop, a stomach-crampingly hilarious political satire.

Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, channeling real-life White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel but British), head of communications for the British Prime Minister, starts his work day by looking for problems of message — in this case, by listening to a radio program wherein Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a minister for international relations, says that a war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable.” What does this mean, exactly? It’s not clear that even Foster knows what he meant but whatever it means, it has Tucker alive with fury and shouting swear-laden insults. Foster is off message, he screams, “unforeseeable” about a potential war that the prime minister supports is not the correct answer. Later, Foster meets with the press and attempts to talk his way out of his sticky situation. Predictably, he gets himself further tangled in verbage when he ends up saying that sometimes on the road to peace you have to “climb the mountain of conflict.”

These potentially opposing statements have both sides of the war argument in the American government thinking that Foster could be an ally. Assistant Sec. of State (diplomacy) Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and Army General George Miller (James Gandolfini) think war will be a disaster while Assistant Sec. of State (policy) Linton Barwick (David Rasche) has already formed a War Committee and is cheering on the war. Floating around these various people of actual (though debatable) power are aides — some highly competent, like the stick-in-the-mud Foster aid Judy (Gina McKee); some creepy and sycophantic, like Chad (Zach Woods), who hangs around the assorted assistant Secretaries of State sucking up to whomever is the most powerful at the moment. These people can all potentially change the debate with the slight nudges of their ideas and desires (many of which have petty aims behind the policy).

And then there’s Toby (Chris Addision), who in his first few moments working in Foster’s office is referred to by Malcolm as a fetus and as Ron Weasley. Soon Toby is tangling Foster up even faster than he was doing it himself, in part by sleeping with a State Department aide and in part by unintentionally letting information slip at exactly the wrong time

Listening to Malcolm insult Toby — or anybody, really — is one of the great delights of this movie. While every character gets the chance to deliver a searing insult (and all the actors are able to do it with panache), Malcolm is the true virtuoso. He weaves together stabs at class and age with pop culture references (the “climb the mountain of conflict” line leads him to call Foster a “Nazi Julie Andrews”) and Shakespearean-level manipulation of swear words. While this is definitely a movie worth seeking out in the theaters, I would almost suggest watching it at home so you can rewind the insults you miss while you are gasping for air with laughter.

This movie digs around in the sausage that is international policy and shows us all the strange bits that go into making the decision to go to war. All of this hilarity has a dark side, of course, which is that it’s probably a little too close to the truth. You do get the sense that the pettiness, status-seeking, deal-making and straight-up fabrications shown here are unsettlingly similar to how national and international policy have been developed in real life.

A definite must-see for the poli-sci nerd, In the Loop is a smart and engaging comedy for anyone who likes their humor dry and razor sharp. B

Not rated. Directed by Armando Iannucci and written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin and Tony Roche, In the Loop is an hour and 45 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by IFC Films. It is available in the IFC Films section of Comcast OnDemand for $7.99. It is scheduled to open on Friday, Sept. 4, at Wilton Town Hall Theater and Red River Theatres.