It is somehow fitting that the unruly plot of “In the Loop,” a sharply written, fast-talking, almost dementedly articulate satire on modern statecraft, should commence with a verbal slip-up. In an atmosphere of impending military action, as the governments of Britain and the United States gear up to invade an unspecified Middle Eastern country, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the British minister of international development, gives an interview to the BBC. Surprised by a question outside his area of expertise —whatever that might be — he declares that in his view “war is unforeseeable.”
This statement, which might sound either obvious or opaque to a casual listener, ignites a minor firestorm in and around 10 Downing Street, since Simon’s words seem to depart from the official line. Offered a chance to walk his gaffe back, the poor fellow only digs himself deeper. Winging it in front of the news cameras, he observes that, while peace is of course a desirable state of affairs, it is sometimes necessary to climb “the mountain of conflict.”
The genius of “In the Loop,” directed by Armando Iannucci and written by a crack team of British wits, is that it turns this mountain into a series of festering molehills. War is a deadly and consequential business. That much goes without saying, and when some of the motley technocrats and would-be statesmen who populate this film do say it, their words sound either embarrassingly tinny or patently self-serving. And that’s the point: Grave matters involving global power cannot finally be separated from the pettiness of democratic governance, which is impelled by careerism, vanity, moral compromise and, in London more than in prim Washington, by ear-singeing profanity.
If Anglo-Saxon epithets were armaments, Britannia would rule the waves, thanks to the uncivil tongue of Malcolm Tucker, a powerful press officer. Almost nothing he says can be quoted here. Loosely based on Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s press secretary, and played by Peter Capaldi as a wiry dervish of Scottish hostility, Malcolm is so completely cynical that he attains a kind of integrity and thus becomes both the film’s chief monster and the closest thing it has to a hero.
The American and British heads of state are never named or shown, and no rogue nation or political party is ever mentioned, but the real-world template for “In the Loop” is easy enough to identify. The British-American push to war involves dubious, possibly cooked intelligence, and voices of dissent inside both governments are silenced and suborned.
But though it all sounds very 2003, the film’s insights are less topical than procedural. It’s not about something that happened but rather about the way things work. Using a mock-vérité style familiar from television shows like “The Office” (and his own series, “The Thick of It,” in relation to which this film is somewhere between spinoff and stepchild), Mr. Iannucci maps the queasy interpersonal power games at the heart of any political endeavor. The inhabitants of his universe are in essence well-connected cubicle rats, or junior high school clique members with media access and large standing armies, or perhaps Renaissance courtiers with BlackBerrys and power suits.
2.93GB | 1h 45m | 1024×552 | mkv