' ' Cinema Romantico: In The Loop

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In The Loop

Imagine if Christopher Guest and cronies put together a mockumentary on the war in Iraq and you get an initial sense for Armando Iannucci's "In The Loop" which received an Oscar nomination (deservedly) for Best Adapted Screenplay. This film, though, is not truly a mockumentary - no interviews or asides to the camera - despite definitely having that aura. It is less a conventional film narrative than a fast paced tear through the inner workings of both the British and American governments as the potential invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country looms. And, in fact, the film isn't so much about that potential invasion - the reasons for it are never referenced - than it is about how that potential invasion affects the livelihood of everyone making decisions about the potential invasion.

As the film starts Britain's minister for international development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), is giving a radio interview wherein once the topic of war is broached states, simply, "War is unforseeable." It seems harmless enough but is far from it. He is lambasted by the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, Malcom Tucker (a howlingly funny Peter Capaldi, spewing profanity so frequently and violently he would make guys at the off tracking betting site blush), for this mistake. You can't say the war is unforseeable because the war may very well happen. Of course, you also can't say the war is forseeable since then everyone will assume the war is inevitable. And, for God's sake, don't give those jackals in the media a phrase to latch onto.

This opening fifteen minutes is ingenius in the way it shows how one political h-bomb involving two countries is caused by a minor verbal slip-up and the lengths to which government operatives will go in an attempt to distract the press and general population from the truth. Not that this goes any better when Foster is cornered once again by the cameras. "For the plane in the fog the mountain is unforeseeable, but then it is suddenly very real and inevitable."

Military invasion is, of course, a staggeringly significant issue but "In The Loop" portrays it time and again as mere opportunities for career growth and/or career implosion. It is all a network of leaks and about-faces and unnamed sources and attempts to deflect attention from the reality of the situation and trying to keep those in need of necessary information as far away from that information as possible - Tucker finding himself hilariously racing across scenic Washington D.C. to reach the meeting he was kept out of - and boring constituents with meaningless problems that actually turn out to be more meaningful than anyone could think possible.

Foster and his young aide Toby (Chris Addison) are sent to Washington for a meeting with the "Future Planning Committee" that is, in actuality, a War Committee set up by assistant U.S. press secretary Linton Barwicke (David Rasche) who is desperately attempting to keep the State Department's Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), her trusty aide Liza (Anna Chlumsky), and General Miller (James Gandolfini) out of the loop when considering this trio is trying to quiet the drums being beaten for war and are eager to enlist the unwitting Foster in their cause.

The torrent of information threatens to overwhelm the viewer and for this reason a second viewing is almost mandatory, not simply because you will have more bearing on all that is happening but because you will get the chance to laugh so hard all over again. There are so many splendid lines I took the liberty of writing down a few for you:

"I will marshal all the media forces of darkness to hound you into an assisted suicide."

"It's like a Harry Potter book if Harry Potter made people angry."

"This is a sacred place. Now you may not believe that and I may not believe that but, by God, that is a useful hypocrisy."

In fact, there is only one moment when "In The Loop" actually slows down and it's a doozy. Tucker, Barwicke, Foster and Toby find themselves in a U.N. Meditation Room. Things have not gone well. Barwicke leaves, triumphant. Tucker tells Foster and Toby to get out (not that kindly) and then the camera watches him in a close-up, quietly, for eight seconds (I counted) as you realize how the most monumental of decisions, those decisions that affect not only the people involved but entire countries, entire continents, sometimes get all of eight seconds to be made.

Which is all Malcolm Tucker needs. It speaks volumes of what Peter Capaldi does here to say that in spite the many great performances and moments and dialogue it his turn as some sort of polticized combo of Mark Wahlberg in "The Departed" and Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross" that he emerges as the film's highlight. He is uncouth and teed off but he will protect the Prime Minister and get done all that which must get done by all means necessary. He is as entertaining and abusive an anti-hero as the silver screen has ever produced.

Did I mention you should see this movie?


Castor said...

Good review. I just got the DVD and am about to see this!

Nick Prigge said...

I really should revise my Top 5 Performances of 2009 and put Peter Capaldi on it but that's a slippery slope I'm going to avoid.