In the Loop (2009)
Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, & Tony Roche
Directed by Armando Iannucci
In the UK Minister for International Development Simon Forster makes an off the cuff remark that “war is unforeseeable” when questioned during a radio interview about the Middle East. This does not mesh with the company line coming out of Downing Street and the Prime Minister’s communications head Malcolm Tucker is more than happy to ream Forster out over this. Toby is new to Forster’s staff and, to make a good impression, he gets a spot in a meeting between the UK’s foreign office and a US delegation from the state department. This leads to another verbal flub from Forster and Tucker’s eventual solution to send him to Washington D.C. on a “fact-finding” mission. Problems snowball until all parties, those for and against war end up in a race to head each other off.
In the Loop is a film spinoff of the BBC series The Thick of It, with the main returning players being Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker and Chris Addison as Toby. Creator Armando Iannucci is familiar to American audiences via Veep, his U.S. variation on this series. If you have seen Veep, then the lightning fast comedic pace and acidic wit are familiar. This cynical humor is the main draw for me to Iannucci’s material as it focuses on the base vanity of these players on the political scene. In contrast to grandiose speeches given when television cameras are rolling, Iannucci’s pols are concerned about Seinfeld-ian minutiae and Game of Thrones style backstabbing. This clash of styles is where the comedy comes from.
The publicity for In the Loop pushed Capaldi’s Tucker as the chief character however the movie is much more about Simon Forster, played by Tom Hollander. Forster is a competent buffoon, meaning he does very trivial things very well but when put under pressure he cannot do what is truly important or vital. This is not made easy because the party line is incredibly unclear. When chastised by Tucker for his “War is unforeseeable” comment, Forster assumes the opposite is true. This drives Tucker even more insane as the Prime Minister is so paralyzed by the public reaction that the choice is made to not come down on either side until sussing out the Americans’ viewpoint. Iannucci sees the climate of political inaction in the lead up to the Iraq War as a revelation of how pols cared more about the public relations angles of their decisions than the actual consequences.
James Gandolfini plays a general and assistant to the Secretary of Defense. He sides with Mimi Kennedy’s Karen Clark, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy against Linton, the man over policy in the State Department. These three figures scramble around the State Department building to hold secret committee meetings and try to push for war or prevent it with widely varying results. Iannucci cites his inspiration from stories he read about Condoleeza Rice, a member of the Bush White House, whom he was told became starstruck by the assumed grandeur of Washington. The Forester character reflects her in many ways. Iannucci also wanted to focus on the underlings in the state department, those officials whose names may remain forever obscured to the public, but whose decisions can lead to the deaths of so many.
What impresses me about Iannucci and his team of writers is their ability to report the reality of behind the scenes political machinations while mining it for some of the best comedy present in film and television. My absolute favorite moments of In the Loop come from Steve Coogan, in a tiny supporting role as a concerned constituent of Forester’s in Northhampton. Coogan’s Paul wants the wall of Forster’s offices in Northampton repaired because it is crumbling and about to collapse on his mother’s greenhouse. In the midst of a high-speed race through the United Nations to negotiate on when a vote for a war resolution might come about, Forster and Toby are still forced to handle incoming phone calls from Paul about the shoddy work done to remedy the wall. Iannucci seems to be asking the audience that if these idiots can’t fix a broken wall why should they be trusted with the safety of the world.