“You could scream about how horrific it all was, but part of you thinks it’s kind of funny in a strange, macabre way.”
Writer/ director Armando Iannucci there, talking about the diplomatic fiasco that spawned Iraq II and inspired this sharp-as-a-tack political satire.
In The Loop sees Iannucci expand his Whitehallbased TV comedy The Thick Of It to movie size, the new format giving him scope to travel across the pond and show us that Washington is as crazy as Westminster.
“Unforeseeable.” That’s how imbecilic Secretary of State Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) describes a war in the Middle East during a radio interview. The PM doesn’t agree – in fact, he’s unofficially backing an impending US-led invasion. Cue potty-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who’s charged with making sure Foster tows the party line. But the minister’s habit of (publicly) speaking before he thinks soon attracts the attention of both pro- and anti-war factions in the US government, giving Tucker no end of headaches…
In The Loop marks Iannucci’s first foray into movies and while he seems more comfortable with the small screen – there’s nothing especially cinematic here – it’s still a remarkably assured debut. Throwing you headfirst into the corridors of power, the faux documentary format and urgent, Bourne-lite camerawork mean this is more 24 than BBC Four.
It also rivals South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut for profanities, most of which spew from Tucker – Capaldi (reprising his role from The Thick Of It) effortlessly delivering a part-improvised torrent of seething one-liners (“You stay detached, or else that’s what I’ll do to your retinas”). The rest of the Anglo- American ensemble – including Hollander, Thick alumnus Chris Addison and My Girl’s Anna Chlumsky – all attack the rapid-fire dialogue with aplomb, while James Gandolfini plays brilliantly against his Tony Soprano-type as a peace-favouring US general.
Look beyond the caustic quips and enjoyably loathsome characters, though and you’ll realise just how on-the-money the film’s observations are. It’s all here – doctored dossiers, phoney resignations, barely-out-of-college staffers in positions of power… Iannucci doesn’t name any names, but you’re left with the feeling that this is a depressingly accurate depiction of modern politics.
Extras-wise, it’s a mixed bag. The deleted scenes don’t add much to the story, but do show off the cast’s improv skills. Press-circuit interviews with Iannucci and his players are a bit stuffy, but they all lighten up for the commentary, in which their increasingly surreal tangents include musing over Malcolm’s out-of-office hobbies. Tucker rearing kittens? Now that’s scary.
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