EFM 2009: IN THE LOOP Review
I don't believe I'm exaggerating when I say that I can count on one hand the number of television comics who have gone on to forge successful film careers int he last decade. There just really haven't been that many able to make the leap is all. And so there was a good amount of nervousness that came along with the excitement of hearing that British satirist Armando Iannucci would not only be making his feature film directing debut with In The Loop but that the film would also be an extension, to some degree, of his brilliantly scathing Brit television series The Thick Of It. Turns out there was no need to worry. Not only has Iannucci made the leap he has done so in a way that will reward loyal fans while in no way, shape or form leaving the neophytes scratching their heads in confusion. For those unfamiliar, let me simply say this: Iannucci is arguably the sharpest and funniest political satirist working in the world today and also the man who blazed the 'awkward comedy' trailer with I'm Alan Partridge long before Ricky Gervais broke the form through into the mainstream with The Office. If you are a fan of sharp, incisive comedy that is actually about something then it simply doesn't get any better than Iannucci and In The Loop is one of his very best pieces of work.
The setup: We are in the halls of British power, with pressure rising for Britain to toe the line with their US allies on an impending war in the Middle East. Into this pressure charged environment comes a rookie government minister who glibly spits out a pair of poorly worded statements, one of which makes him appear to be staunchly anti-war while the other makes him appear strongly pro. When the comments hit the press both sides of the argument in the US government see our poor, overmatched patsy as a tool that they can manipulate to bolster their own views and so he is, in no time, flown in to Washington where the massaging and spinning can begin in earnest.
Shot in the same intimate, single camera style that marks the like minded satire The Thick Of It, Iannucci reuses several other devices that make that show work so blazingly well. First is the camera style itself, a choice that drops the viewer right into the thick of the action. Second is the use of several key Thick of It characters, including the brilliantly foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker. You don't need to know who these people are ahead of time to get the jokes, the film is not so closely linked to the show that you need any prior knowledge of it, it's just that these characters are so incredibly rich that the film would be greatly reduced if they were omitted. Third - and most importantly - Iannucci continues to keep the focus purely on the lower levels of government - the career civil servants, the aides and spin doctors - rather than on the major figures to capture just how ruthless and chaotic government actually is. Chaos? Oh, hell yes. If you thought The West Wing was prone to firing out rapid dialogue, well, you aint seen nothing yet.
Iannucci has a large and often surprising ensemble cast here, making a number of choies that appear surprising on the surface but turn out to be positively inspired, none more so than James Galdolfini as an upper level general who opines at one point that "It's important to have some soldiers left at the end of a war, otherwise it looks like you lost." This is very much the sort of film that lends itself to obsessive quoting, so much so that it's difficult to review without simply spouting off a collection of favorite lines so suffice it to say that there will not be a smarter, more pointed, or funnier political comedy released any time soon. Jon Stewart can only wish he was capable of this.