Friday, August 14, 2009

Film review: 'In the Loop' a smart, funny satire of war buildup

Peter Capaldi confronts Chris Addison in In the Loop.

By Hap Erstein

Is it too soon for an Iraq War comedy?

Perhaps, but someone forgot to tell director/co-writer Armando Iannucci who made In the Loop, a giddy feature debut with a comic take on the bureaucratic skirmishes in the run-up to the war in the Middle East.

Actually, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan get mentioned by name, but you would have to had avoided all news sources from the George Bush-Tony Blair days not to recognize the satirical targets of this tale. Our worst fears are comically illustrated in this behind-the-scenes diplomatic tug-of-war between the United States and the United Kingdom over the justification for armed conflict, which leads to a trumped-up sales job at the United Nations.

Iannucci is a veteran of the British sitcom The Thick of It, but it seems likely that he is more than a little familiar with The West Wing and The Office. From the former, he takes the hyper-articulate dialogue style and walk-and-talk visuals, while the latter seems to have been his inspiration for underplayed bumbling.

The snafus begin immediately when pipsqueak Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), Britain’s minister of international development, strays from his area of expertise, answering a question from the BBC by reassuringly declaring that “war is unforeseeable.” The problem is that statement contradicts the -- unseen -- prime minister, a lapdog of the -- equally absent -- American president, and any attempt to correct his position only lands Simon in hotter water.

History may not record which underling bureaucrat said what, but while it is happening, words are all they have, so they battle over them and over the political turf that ebbs and flows based on perceptions rather than substance.

Fighting fire with stupidity, the prime minister sends his communications director Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) to Washington to dampen the furor. There he does combat with hawkish State Department higher-up Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who cannot keep his secret War committee secret, no matter what boring title he tries to give it. Opposing the war are Assistant Secretary Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy) and dovish-but-foulmouthed Army Gen. Miller (James Gandolfini), whose efforts are fated to be ineffectual.

Only slightly exaggerated is the crucial role rookie aides and toadying underlings play in getting the work of government done, for good or ill. Karen’s put-upon whipping girl (Anna Chlumsky) and Simon’s none-too-swift aide (Chris Addison) have one-night-stand sex in between churning out position papers.

In The Loop is on-target political satire in the British mode, the sort of smart and smart-assed comedy that is all too rare on this side of The Pond. Contemporary war movies have been sinking at the box office and this one will probably not reverse that trend, but it deserves to be sought out and seen.

IN THE LOOP. Studio: BBC Films; Director: Armando Ianucci; Starring: Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, Anna Chlumsky, James Gandolfini. Opening today at Emerging Cinemas, Lake Worth. Call 586-6410 for more information.

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