Sunday, September 13, 2009
In the Loop ***1/2
Director: Armando Ianucci
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander
Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy, David Rasche
Steve Coogan, James Gandolfini
Not long after the BBC Films logo has appeared, Government Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) let's us know we're not watching a "Regency costume drama" by establishing "this is a government department, not a fucking Jane fucking Austen novel".
"In the Loop" is in fact quite a surprise of a movie; a deliciously sardonic political satire, worthy of "Dr. Strangelove" comparisons.
Set during the time leading to the Iraq war, hell breaks loose when the British Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Hollander) says war is "unforeseeable" during a radio show.
Before long he's considered a war supporter-yes, based on one simple word-and is sent to Washington D.C. -along with his new assistant Toby (Addison)-to fix things.
There they become the center of a battle between the war-loving Assistant Secretary of State (played by an insanely conservative Rasche), anti-war Major General Miller (Gandolfini) and his ex-lover, Secretary of State Assistant Karen Clarke (Kennedy).
All of them try to use the British as pawns in their own agendas while people back in London deal with "smaller" problems (one includes a demanding character played by the genius Coogan who demands the government takes care of their constituency).
Ianucci's film (a "cousin" as he says to his excellent TV series "The Thick of It") is fueled by an absolutely brilliant screenplay (written by Ianucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche and Ian Martin) which not only keeps firing memorable one-liners unrelentlessly, but also touches a deeper chord, because this may be comedy but the ideas behind it are the stuff of the finest drama.
This comes to life with the masterful ensemble all of whom contribute greatly and create unforgettable parts. Hollander-who embodies dignity in the face of utter shame-is marvelous, every move and gesture he makes is exquisite (you can't see him acting).
Addison is a sweet looking, but has a more harmful edge that makes him dangerously charming. Kennedy is terrific; her banter with the phenomenal Gandolfini ignites the sort of sexual tension you don't want to know of, yet you can't resist.
Then there's Capaldi, whose Malcolm owns the movie; he makes an art out of the profane-you need to listen to his indecent sounding way of demonizing "The Sound of Music"-his Tucker insults everyone but makes it sound completely natural.
He's aggressive, disturbingly confident and sorta terrifying as well, but he embodies best what makes the movie so good.
The fact that despite the fact that you know this is a movie and there is a script, the characters achieve an honesty even when they come to irreverently zany levels.
"In the Loop" makes some wry observations on how politics today are a game of sorts where internal dislikes, grammatical mistakes can start wars and a one night stand can be used to prevent it.
It makes the world we live in seem corrupt and worsening, but it's also so funny that we can't help but enjoy living in it.