In The Loop – movie review
Unlikely as it may sound, I think there is a strong case for “In The Loop” to complete a double feature with “Crank: High Voltage.” Both films share a frenetic, relentless pace; a cast of largely familiar but un-nameable faces; and a colourful, inventive litany of verbal insults, the likes of which would make the gauchest sports fan blush. However, whilst Crank celebrates the basest of human impulses, In The Loop will exercise the brain more than any other part of the anatomy.
Aping the clichéd storyline of many a televisual sitcom’s cinematic debut, In The Loop finds the characters of TV’s “The Thick of It” going on holiday to America. Armando Iannucci’s semi-improvised political satire concerns itself with the microcosmic minutiae that pollute logic and reason in the corridors of power in Westminster. As the film expands its context to the USA, inevitably our protagonists are drawn like moths to Washington DC. The film’s creators cleverly avoid naming specifics, preferring to use allusions such as “The PM” and “The Other Side”, so we find ourselves in an abstracted but very real pre-Iraq Invasion context.
A flustered sound-bite from Tom Hollander’s British MP “Simon Foster” pricks up ears on both sides of the Atlantic, and before long he becomes the unwitting pawn embroiled in machinations that go way over his head. Chris Addison’s faux-naif “Toby” returns from “The Thick of It,” here cast as Simon’s assistant when the two go on an adventure to the States. It is slightly unfair to the excellent ensemble cast that this film is entirely dominated by Peter Capaldi’s blisteringly acerbic “Malcolm Tucker” – a governmental spin doctor and whip cracker whose machiavellian powers appear to have no peer or equal. Every moment Capaldi is on the screen is a master class in manipulation and f-bombery; every second he is off screen, you can’t help but find yourself awaiting his return.
The film differs from its TV ancestor significantly when we find ourselves following the parallel American version of events – reminding me somewhat of the American version of The Office, these scenes felt “the same, but different.” If there has to be a weak spot then it would have to be here. I’m aware that this is a cinematic outing that wants to sell to a transatlantic audience, and I suspect that this was deemed the best way to appeal to the US market. There are still the odd glimmers of genius at work though, most memorably when James Gandolfini’s military general is using a child’s cutesy calculator to guess how many troops to send to war.
There is a defiantly anti-cinematic edge to In The Loop: whilst the bulk of the action takes place in either Downing Street or Washington, we only ever see the dingy corridors and offices that these people inhabit- the silhouette of The Capital from Toby’s hotel window is about as close as we get to a glamorous celebration of power that these buildings were designed to inspire. I don’t recall hearing any music score either, but then it could be that you have to concentrate so hard on what everyone has to say that a soundtrack is moot. There are no rousing speeches, magical character redemptions, or deii ex machinae; simply some extremely terse and insightful dialogue between fascinatingly grotesque people who are just as flawed as the rest of us but inhabit a world we can never expect to see for ourselves.
This is an excellent film that will struggle to get noticed amidst the noisier and more populist fare, but it demands to be supported and celebrated as a shining example of what British talent is capable of.