Deliciously black, bitingly relevant, consistently foul-mouthed, and verbally blood-stained, In the Loop is a brisk, bile-spitting, side-splitting spoof; a scabrously funny look at the cutthroat game of modern statecraft. Agitated and acerbic, it fizzes like concentrated sulphuric acid and demolishes Westminster and Washington’s technocracies.
Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is a minor minister of international development with the British government who, in the midst of a radio interview, casually tells a reporter “war is unforeseeable.” Director of communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) goes into a tirade when the press turns Foster into an unwitting media figure. Joined by damage control expert Toby, Foster displays a stubborn inability to say what he’s supposed to, and finds himself caught in the middle between pro-war factions – including diplomat Karen Clarke and State Department official Linton Barwick – and those who oppose the conflict, including Pentagon attaché General Miller (James Gandolfini).
Drawing upon Dr. Strangelove… and This Is Spinal Tap, this sardonic tale is adapted from the critically acclaimed BBC series The Thick of It, and the script of In the Loop is so rich that it could work as a radio play. Sharply written and disturbingly articulate, the laugh lines come so quickly that you’ll probably have to watch the movie twice to get them all. In the Loop floats above its chaotic world on wave after wave of beautifully profane dialogue: it’s a little bit of heaven to hear screen characters spew such eloquently vicious, saucy repartee.
The performances are explosively funny, from Hollander’s increasingly bewildered and way-out-of-his-depth Simon to Addison’s hapless PR fledgling. As the skirmish-ready ranking cabinet minister, Capaldi unfurls dazzling ribbons of the foulest language imaginable, lightning bolts of vulgarity that carry the force of precision carpet-bombing. A swift riposte to the ego massaging of the Coens’ similarly-themed Burn After Reading, In the Loop is no precious show pony: it’s a snarling, frothing beast straining at its leash.
In the Loop mobilizes a full-frontal assault on the funnybone, doling out diabolical wit and depressing truths about corrosive careerism and boomeranging backhall political wrangling and backroom muckraking. It mercilessly skewers policy-makers for the self-serving entities they are, and dares to fictionally embellish the tawdry facts, to out-spin the spin doctors. The dense, uproarious tumble of words – the sly cultural references, the astonishingly creative invective, the dry throwaway wit, the veritable arias of profanity – belie the saber-rattling and manic one-upmanship and give the film an unexpected heft.
Dancing along a line just shy of the edge of brilliance, In the Loop possesses an incisive, take-no-prisoners comedic style that insightfully mocks the stupidity at the highest echelons of government. Sparing no sacred cows, In the Loop is generous with its pent-up vitriolic humour, so relentlessly savage it could destroy whatever shred of respect you may still retain for politicians/charlatans and that flogged horse called democracy.
While it’s often obscenely funny, In the Loop tickles more than it stings, and has no redeeming value beyond rollicking entertainment. It’s lively and clever, yet not sharp or nasty enough to cut very deep; it’s more peppery trifle than gag-inducing medicine. As with Robert Altman’s The Player, the film operates on a subtle kind of audience flattery, but dead-on analysis and whip-smart observation are always welcome.
In the Loop is a blistering, lacerating satire with poison in its fangs and ice in its veins, as fleet as a farce and as profane as a convention of Tony Montana impersonators. It plays as if Monty Python and Jane Austen collaborated on an episode of The West Wing, and then flaming pieces of The Office crash-landed on the set. Are the corridors of power really this dysfunctional? British comedians are capable of taking over the world.