July 25, 2009
In the Loop (2009) ****
Directed by Armando Iannucci
If these are the people behind the decision to go war, then the world doesn't stand a chance! In the Loop is a broad comedy, but there's something truly horrifying at its core. Though never mentioned explicitly, the screenwriters clearly comment on the Iraq War, and the lack of communication between intelligence organizations, as well as post-9/11 public outcry, led the United States into a war we arguably never should have been in the first place. In the Loop is about bumbling idiots--in reality, those who convinced themselves and the American people that war in Iraq was necessary may not have been bumbling. That's the only difference between reality and fiction in that matter.
Yet, this isn't a preachy film; instead, Iannucci brings us an Office-like satire on the weaknesses of bureaucracy which contain some of the biggest laughs I've had in any film so far this year. Not one character is ultimately likable, and yet, very few are two-dimensional villains. With the exception of James Gandolfini, all of the British and American actors really deliver the laughs so well that I wouldn't be surprised if quite a number of those in its relatively unknown cast become big stars someday.
The stakes are laid out when British Cabinet Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) mistakenly makes a comment in an interview claiming that war is inevitable. This leads to a sequence of events trying to fix the effects of the snowballing snafu which ensues. Meanwhile, the American State Department tries to secretly form a war committee by creating it under a different name, but a romance between a young British staffer and a young American staffer causes the story to be leaked along with a research memo laying out all the reasons why war is not the best option. Eventually, representatives from both countries end up at the United Nations in order to vote to begin the war. With all the press leaks, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the Prime Minister's foul-mouthed Director of Communications, must throw people under the bus in order to keep the Prime Minister's desire to go to war pristine.
When it really comes down to it, public opinion ought to have nothing to do with whether or not a country declares war. National security and human interest are the only things that must be truthfully examined. War is an awful prospect, and it should be avoided if at all possible. Yet, all of this wisdom gets thrown out the window completely in In the Loop. Everything serves at the mercy of garnering public support to go to war. One must wonder whether art imitates life.
The documentary-like, handheld camera work doesn't draw attention to itself; on the other hand, it doesn't add much to the effect of the plot either. That being said, director Armando Iannucci ought to be lauded for the performances he extracts from the talented cast. It is also nice to see My Girl's Anna Chlumsky back on screen again as the American staffer who wrote the infamous memo mentioned above.
The real stand out performance belongs to Peter Capaldi. Few characters are more profane than Malcolm Tucker, and he's not afraid to verbally pummel people to the ground; however, one can't help but smile every time Capaldi appears on screen. He plays angry just right, giving his character some real depth while uttering lines that are among the film's biggest laughs. Hopefully, he won't be forgotten during awards season.
Unfortunately, James Gandolfini plays an unnecessary character with no depth whatsoever. His Lieutenant General George Miller isn't just unlikable; he's a sociopathic monster, and Gandolfini doesn't help any by yelling some of his lines at the top of his lungs. Further, within a cast that's relatively unknown, his fame proves distracting--every time he appeared on screen, I kept saying to myself, "Look, it's James Gandolfini from the Sopranos." He's outacted by newcomers and unknowns--it's kind of sad!
Filmspotting's Matty Robinson had two problems with In the Loop which I completely agree with. First, the whole thing sort of feels like the pilot for a television series, and perhaps it might work better in that medium. He's absolutely correct in the fact that these characters could come back week after week with completely new international issues which they will no doubt botch. Second, the stakes aren't high enough for the audience to really invest in the conflict itself. By the end, it's hard not to look back and wonder what all the suffering these characters endure is ultimately for. Had the characters made different choices and the decision about the war went in the other direction, would it really have made a difference within the world of the film? Granted, in reality, if the decision to go to war in Iraq had gone the other way, then that would have been truly significant; however, the fictional war within In the Loop doesn't prove to be all that compelling in allowing us to invest in the outcome of the U.N. Council's vote.
Overall, films don't come along very often which are as intelligent, funny and biting as In the Loop. Think of it as The Office meets The West Wing meets a bunch of truckers talking in a bar. In the Loop might just be remembered as one of the few valuable films made about the Iraq War.