In the Loop
Directed by Armando IannucciStarring Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, James Gandolfini and Anna ChlumskyRated R*7.5*
Goes well with: Wag the Dog, Charlie Wilson's War, Dr. Strangelove
Politics is a dirty, underhanded business. Deals that impact the lives of millions are made in back rooms or over steak dinners, and often self-interest stands in the way of good policy and actual public service. And even though we know all this to be true, we close our eyes and tell ourselves that the people who control the levers of federal, state and local government are doing the right thing. Sometimes, though, cynicism and good journalism win out and we discover that, actually, many elected officials and their underlings are not looking out for us and are, in some cases, dumber than the rest of us.
Armando Iannucci's new satire In the Loop spells all this out perfectly. A look at the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, it moves fast and furious, exploring the way public policy is made. It makes it a profoundly personal process, in terms of the way career politicians are willing to screw each other over to get their various bills or resolutions to the floor at precisely the correct moment, and to control the spin at the same time. It's like pulling back the soft velvet to discover that there's no man behind the curtain but, rather, a huge, squirming mass of rats, desperately running on treadmills all pointing in different directions.
Things get rolling when mid-level British cabinet minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is asked whether he thinks there'll be a war in the Middle East during an otherwise benign radio interview. His answer: “Unforeseeable.” This message—which means nothing, of course—is actually off-message, sending the prime minister's right-hand man, the gloriously profane Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), into histrionics. When we see them face off in Foster's office, we learn some things: Malcolm's a bully. Simon's somewhat dim. Simon's staff, Toby (Chris Addison) and Judy (Gina McKee), are passive-aggressively elbowing each other for space. No, Simon doesn't really think there should be a war, but he's less interested in pursuing that possibility than he is in not getting yelled at by Malcolm, who can deliver his very own version of shock and awe when he gets going. Whether there's going to be carpet bombings and a civil war takes a back seat to office politics.
Regardless, Simon's offhand comment gains traction. Quickly, he finds himself sitting in on meetings with State Department bureaucrat Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), whose assistant, Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky, who's grown up since the days of My Girl), has authored a paper that successfully disputes the need for a war and is, of course, being disputed by everyone, especially Washington neocon Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who's butting heads with pro-peace Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini). Information is used and abused, people are manipulated, personal agendas are pursued and the very real possibility of a planet-changing war ends up depending on how much someone had to drink the night before.
Iannucci, who also co-wrote this adaptation of the BBC series In the Thick of It, realizes he doesn't have a great deal of screen time for any of the many characters, but each is fleshed out just enough to keep the story clear. In the Loop is terribly funny satire, but it works because each person is human—that is, ambitious, frightened, passive-aggressive, manipulative, conniving and, at times, just plain nasty. There aren't really any good guys, and the people who do horrific things—rewriting a report to suit their own needs, for instance—are just flawed and stupid and desperate to follow orders and further an agenda so that they won't lose their jobs.
As is often the case in situations like this, it's whoever is willing to pull the dirtiest tricks who wins out in the end. Need proof of that? Just take a look at Iraq. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.