One word acts as a match dropped on a pile of oily rags in the political satire In The Loop: “Unforeseeable.” Playing Britain’s Secretary Of State For International Development, Tom Hollander drops it in the midst of a radio interview about the possibility of a war in the Middle East, suspecting nothing about the firestorm to follow. By the next day, the flames have grown too hot to ignore. Having run afoul of the Prime Minister’s official message, Hollander becomes the target of Scottish spin doctor Peter Capaldi, and the focus of attention for anti-war American diplomat Karen Clarke. Sensing he’s in the middle of a transatlantic game of tug-of-war, Hollander tries to hold his ground. Instead, he gets hopelessly tangled.
Reduced to a bare plot description, Armando Iannucci’s movie sounds like pure political farce. It’s nothing so clean or neat. Filled out by a dozen or so memorable supporting characters, shot with seemingly the shakiest cameras available, and edited with garden shears, In The Loop floats above its chaotic world on wave after wave of beautifully profane dialogue. Words serve as weapons for political blood sport. No one plays the game as aggressively as Capaldi, who offers up a series of lines that are unquotable in polite company, unless that polite company is comfortable with references to “lubricated horse cock.” But his isn’t the only way to play, and the film’s swirling approach captures the different styles of maneuvering, manipulation, deceit, and abuse that low- to mid-level politicians engage in just to remain part of the process.
A British TV veteran making his feature directorial debut, Iannucci expands on his TV series The Thick Of It, keeping some of the cast and characters while bringing in some game American collaborators, including a grown-up Anna Chlumsky, veteran character actor David Rasche as a serenely assured warmonger, and James Gandolfini as a war-averse general. (“Once you’ve been there, you never want to go again unless you absolutely have to. It’s like France.”) Iannucci has made a mercilessly funny film that, beneath the laughs, chillingly falls on the believable side of how politics really gets done. Flawed, distracted people bicker, sidestep, and deceive one another. They shout and sharpen their wits rather than finding common ground. They let personal grudges and stubbornness dictate policy. All the while, the world drifts toward war.