You trust your elected officials, right? Okay, please wipe away the tears of laughter so you can continue reading. Politics, clearly, are comedy gold (just ask Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), and yet smart political comedies seem to arrive at theaters only once or twice a decade. So hear ye, hear ye: thanks to In the Loop, it’s again time to think and laugh at the same time.
One part Dr. Strangelove and two parts The Office, In the Loop is a shaky-cam satire that savages government movers and shakers on both sides of the Atlantic. This spinoff of the BBC comedy series The Thick of It is the brainchild of writer-director Armando Iannucci (who shares screenplay credit here with Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, and Tony Roche). The plot concerns the gung-ho secret committee plotting a war in the Middle East on behalf of the US President and UK Prime Minister, and those trying to block the war with strategic leaks and other creative maneuvers.
Peter Capaldi reprises his TV role of Malcolm Tucker, the fiercely hawkish and profane Director of Communications to the Prime Minister. He’s at odds with the Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), who accidentally creates a national crisis by referring to a possible war as “unforeseeable.” Tucker’s bile-drenched advice? "Talk to as few people as possible—that’d be best for you." But the absurdly damaging word is already in the ether, making the pliable Foster an attractive commodity to U.S. politicos who interpret the off-hand remark as support for their cause.
Soon, the hapless Foster is being Yanked in the direction of US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), who intends to use him as a prop (“room meat”) in her campaign to expose and block the war. Meanwhile, Clarke’s aide Liza (Anna Chlumsky, My Girl all grown up) and Foster’s untested new advisor Toby (Chris Addison) are playing their own games, complicated by sexual tension.
Clarke has an ally at the Pentagon in “armchair general” George Miller (James Gandolfini) and a sworn enemy in Rumsfeld-esque Assistant Secretary for Policy Linton Barwick (Mamet fave David Rasche), who insists, "We don't need any more facts. In the land of truth, my friend, the man with one fact is the king." Though Capaldi owns the screen as the spitting Scottish pit bull who refuses to lose ("Whether it's happened or not is irrelevant—it is true!"), the ensemble is uniformly fantastic.
Iannucci is best known on these shores—if he’s known at all—as Steve Coogan’s principal collaborator on the brilliant comedy series Knowing Me, Knowing You… and I’m Alan Partridge (Coogan pops up here in a funny cameo). Thanks to The Thick of It, Iannucci has mastered his self-styled form of giant-sized, whip-smart scripts and partial improvisation. The rhythms and power plays of politics are the bloody heart of the film, but—without showing off—Iannucci makes room for all sorts of incisive observations about gender cliquishness in politics and Britain’s inferiority complex in the face of American swagger. With a bite that’s going to leave a mark, In the Loop is the year’s best comedy to date.