Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: comedies / In category: 3 of 10 / Overall: 19 of 100
After the first five minutes of ‘In the Loop’, I was convinced that Armando Iannucci and his three co-scripters had used a poison pen to write the screenplay. Half an hour in, I decided they’d used a typewriter ribbon marinated in the blood of small fluffy animals. By the end, I was guessing at a stiletto blade dipped in battery acid.
‘In the Loop’ – the big screen spin-off from the BBC comedy ‘The Thick of It’ – is the most cynical and abrasive satire I’ve seen in a while. Not to mention the most profane. Imagine a mash up of ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, rewritten by Torquemada on a day off from the Spanish Inquisition and you’re half way there.
The plot is a labyrinthine affair sparked off when bumbling minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) makes an ill-advised remark (“war is unforeseeable”) during a radio interview, which he then compounds with an even more ill-advised one (“to walk the road of peace, sometimes we must be ready to climb the mountain of conflict”) when besieged by reporters. His qualifying statement that the mountain is purely metaphorical cuts no ice with the press and suddenly he’s front page news.
His loose tongue earns him the attention of communications manager Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a man whose approach to communication is roughly the same as Joe Pesci’s in ‘Goodfellas’. In fact, Tucker would probably decimate the Mafia for breakfast and not even have to use a gun. His tongue is deadly enough a weapon. When communications director Judy Molloy (Gina McKee) interrupts Tucker’s dressing down of Foster, reminding him that she should be consulted on the matter as “it falls within my purview”, Tucker apoplectically retorts, “Within your purview? Where do you think you are, some fucking regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some fucking Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock!”
The situation, however, soon escalates beyond even Tucker’s vein-popping brand of expletive-ridden damage limitation. Conflict is imminent overseas: on Capitol Hill, Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and idealistic staffer Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky) join forces with General Miller (James Gandolfini) against the warmongering machinations of Assistant Secretary for Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche – a revelation).
All parties in what rapidly becomes a minefield of political manoeuvring have a vested interest in Foster and before he knows it he’s in America, on the war committee (or, as Barwick prefers to call it, the Committee for Future Planning) and way out of his depth. Then, into a situation already as potentially volatile as the hand grenade Barwick uses for a paperweight, comes Tucker. What follows is a riot of bad language, back-room deals, back-biting, back-stabbing, hidden agendas, ulterior motives and shifting loyalties.
Filmed in an edgy, restless style that perfectly matches Capaldi’s adrenalin-rush portrayal of Tucker, ‘In the Loop’ hits every target with pinpoint accuracy. The faux-documentary aesthetic captures a ragged immediacy. The script takes no prisoners – on either side of the Atlantic. (I was reminded of Bill Hicks’ dictum that “all governments are lying cocksuckers”.) Everyone has something they want and everything to lose.
The performances are priceless. Hollander plays the hapless Foster as a cross between a puffed up Head Boy and a deer just beginning to twig on to the implications of a fast-approaching pair of headlights; Gandolfini does a nice line in slow-burn intensity and quietly spoken threat (“you might be some scary poodle-fucker back in England,” he tells Tucker at one point, “but out here you’re nothing”); and Capaldi ignites the screen like a Tasmanian devil with a firecracker up its arse and a pronounced case of Tourettes.
‘In the Loop’ is the real deal. As a political satire, it makes the likes of ‘Bob Roberts’ or ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ look soft. It’s smarter, nastier and angrier. You’d never pick it as a date movie or a safe option round your mum’s on Mother’s Day, but it’ll give you at least two dozen lines (of varying degrees of obscenity) that you’ll wish you could get away with using at the office.