In the Loop

Film: In the Loop
Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rating: ****

Alastair Campbell, Director of Communications for most of the Blair years, recently insisted his portrayal as a fierce and manipulative spinmeister in In The Loop did not offend him. In fact, Campbell says he found the film – depicting the Iraq war as a product of cynical spin-doctoring – utterly ‘boring’. This assessment is unsurprising: after all, Mr Campbell’s seen it all before. The real-life confusion and spin-laden run-up to the Iraq war mirrors all too closely the farcical events represented in this fictional story of desperate government ministers, bureaucrats and army generals trying to either advocate or prevent war.

Unlike a majority of films that have attempted to confront the Iraq war, In The Loop takes a comic look at the preceding political frenzy and delivers an unflinching and often hilarious satire on the blundering and muddled build-up to war. We follow a junior minister Simon Foster after he describes an impending war with an unspecified Middle Eastern country as ‘unforeseeable’ in an interview. The comment causes a media whirlwind and the foul-mouthed, brutal Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker – keen to push through a consensus on affirmative international intervention in the Middle East – is livid with Foster’s public slip-up. Across the seas, officials in Washington DC start to hear word of this little-known Simon Foster and envisage him as a useful pawn in the pressing debate on military intervention.

This is a very British comedy; the usual sheen of American political dramas replaced with believable, pitiful protagonists; all leagues out of their depth. Each scene is framed by shaky handheld cameras and the dismal greys and browns of bureaucratic offices; and rather than quick quips and decisive action, dithering panic take centre stage. The political process is presented as a shambolic and ludicrous debacle – bathetically setting the juvenile and chaotic administration against the ominous and severe matter of international war. The cartoonish, almost farcical progression of the film is at times as worrying as it is funny. There’s no denying the uncanny parallel events to the run-up to the Iraq war. The foul-mouthed Director of Communications shares a scary resemblance to bullish media whore Campbell: here, again eager to fabricate ‘dodgy dossiers’ and sell an illegitimate war at all costs. Peter Capaldi’s abhorrent character is directly lifted from the director’s small screen BBC predecessor, The Thick of It (from which the film also takes its fly-on-the-wall documentary style). He steals every scene, hurling abuse in the form of protracted obscenities, so perfectly composed they could pass as Shakespearean monologues – poetic metaphors substituted for seething profanities and filth-strewn imagery. The language is unapologetically offensive and Capaldi’s delivery so vicious and fearsome that it’s hard not to laugh.

Despite the convoluted plot folding in on itself in the third act, this is a biting satire marked out by its sharp wit and gleeful vulgarity.

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