Should I Watch..? In The Loop
What's the big deal?
In The Loop is a satirical black comedy released in 2009 and is a spin-off from the BBC TV series The Thick Of It. It was written by creator Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche. It satirises the build-up to the invasion of Iraq and UK-US political relations since 9/11. As it is a spin-off of Iannucci's sitcom, several actors involved also appear in this movie although not necessarily in the same part. Chief of these is a pre-Doctor Who Peter Capaldi as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, loosely based on real-life spin doctor of Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell. As a result, the film retains the same acerbic wit as the original show and also the worrying possibility that it may be closer to the truth than even it realises.
What's it about?
Both the US and UK governments appear on the verge of going to war with an unspecified country in the Middle East. As the arguments for and against begin to mount, British MP and Cabinet minister Simon Foster accidentally suggests in an off-the-cuff remark that war is "unforeseeable" which incurs the wrath of the Prime Minister's director of communications, Malcolm Tucker.
Hastily being dispatched to Washington DC before he can do any more damage along with his new aide Toby Wright, Foster quickly finds himself being courted by both the pro-war lobbyist Linton Barwick as well as the anti-war campaigner Karen Clark who is determined to expose the shady dealings behind the war effort. Foster and Wright are both hopelessly out of their depth - prompting a little visit in DC by Tucker...
Malcolm Tucker, PM's Director of Communication
Simon Foster, Secretary of State for International Development
Toby Wright, Simon Foster's special advisor
Karen Clark, US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy
Linton Barwick, US Assistant Secretary of State for Policy
Lt. Gen. George Miller
Liza Weld, Karen Clark's assistant
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci & Tony Roche
Release Date (UK)
17th April, 2009
Academy Award Nomination
Best Adapted Screenplay
What's to like?
Well, for starters, the movie contains some of the most well delivered and written lines of dialogue you're ever likely to see. Every cast member steps up to the plate and smashes their one-liners out of the park, none more so than Capaldi whose enthusiasm for swearing would shame Gordon Ramsey. There really isn't a weak link in the chain - even Gandolfini (who I personally don't associate with comedy) has his moments such as using a child's talking calculator to demonstrate the issue with dwindling troop numbers. The film possesses a beautiful fluidity to the point where it begins to feels improvised at times and this helps give it the sort of credibility that more pro-authority broadcasts (like The West Wing, for example) can only dream of.
But it's not just that. Iannucci has long had a brilliant eye for satire since he started on The Day Today back in 1994. The screenplay feels worryingly plausible as though sculptured through many years of studying various political figures like Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and David Cameron. It doesn't take much to believe that this film is actually closer to the truth than many other political satires.
- The 'F' word is said 135 times in the movie, 86 times by Malcolm Tucker. By contrast, Shaun Of The Dead only had 77 'F' words in the entire movie!
- The scenes set at 10 Downing Street were actually shot there. Normally, permission isn't given for filming purposes but the staff were excited to meet their fictional counterparts and agreed.
- Before filming started, Armando Iannucci gained access to the US State Department by flashing a photo ID and saying "BBC. I'm here for the 12.30." He then spent a few hours walking around and taking photos on behalf of the set designers.
What's not to like?
Viewers of a certain disposition can't help but be offended by the river of bad language which, at times, is more like a tidal surge. The variety, frequency and use of such language makes this film strictly one for adults only.
Also, as is the problem with most films made up of improvisation, a lot of the scalpel sharp dialogue gets lost as characters talk over each other. This can lead to some loss of comprehension following the complex plot. Lastly, Gandolfini is too recognisable as Lt. Gen. Miller. It might seem like a strange thing to say given how well he does in the role but the rest of the cast aren't massive movie stars and this helps maintain the documentary feel the film has. Gandolfini's presence initially scuppers this illusion (especially during the scene with Tucker in the canteen) but you can't really blame the big man for that.
Should I watch it?
Yes. It's as refreshing as it is sharp and funny, a bitingly dry satire on how one miscommunication can quickly spiral out of control with disastrous consequences. It might lack genuine belly laughs or be a bit high-brow for some but In The Loop is a well written, brilliantly performed and confidently directed comedy that goes for the jugular and takes no prisoners.
Great For: fans of The Thick Of It, news junkies, people tired of comedies involving bodily functions and violence
Not So Great For: action fans, kids, viewers of the Jeremy Kyle show
What other films should I watch?
Political satires done this well are hard to find. The obvious one that springs to mind is Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove which is about the countdown to nuclear war and features a magnetic performance from Peter Sellers. That might seem like over-zealous hyperbole but In The Loop is that good. For political films without the laughs, you're pretty much spoiled for choice - JFK, Murder At 1600, Charlie Wilson's War or if you have access to a streaming service then enough seasons of The West Wing to keep you going for a while. One final note - Iannucci is also the brains behind the US series Veep which is ran on similar themes and tones as this film.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox