With only a couple of notable exceptions, American films about the war in the Middle East have tended to be so ineffectual that audiences are less inclined to wring their hands over the real-world events being addressed and more likely to wring filmmaker necks over wasting their time. Leave it to the Brits, then, to make a topical movie that actually matters -- and trust the cheeky bastards to also take that unexpected extra step by turning it into a comedy.
Written by, directed by, and co-starring various chaps involved with the BBC series The Thick of It, In the Loop is a vicious satire with ice in its veins and poison in its fangs. It starts when bumbling British official Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) suggests in an interview that the likelihood of a U.S.-backed war in the Middle East is a possibility. All of a sudden, the Brit hits the fan, as Foster's innocent comment reverberates through the corridors of power not only in the U.K. but here in the States as well. Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the Prime Minister's right-hand man, uses his tongue as if it were a machine gun and mows down everyone around him -- not just hapless Foster -- as he tries to figure out how best to handle the situation. It's decided that Foster and his suck-up assistant Toby (Chris Addison) will travel to D.C., where they must match wits -- or, rather, half-wits -- with both ineffectual liberal politicians with an anti-war stance and soulless conservative politicos who can't wait for the killing to begin.
The beauty of In the Loop is that while everything is played at a slightly surreal speed, there's nothing in the film that feels bogus -- certainly not the manner in which politicians will fudge the facts for their own gain, or the way that aides will jockey (and turn) against each other to advance their own careers. All of the performers are fearless in their respective assignments (there's not a single major character who's wholly sympathetic), although I especially enjoyed Capaldi and the manner in which he turns insults into an art form; among his more benign hurls, he calls Toby "Ron Weasley" and addresses James Gandolfini's U.S. military man as "General Flintstone." Further down the cast list, an unrecognizable Steve Coogan pops up as an English working stiff; his reaction to a query about cell phones is priceless, and succinctly nails the point that politicians are hopelessly out of touch with the people they supposedly represent.
Recent Iraq war flicks like Lions for Lambs and Redacted sought to encourage outrage but only inspired boredom. In the Loop should provoke intelligent discourse, but honestly, will anyone be able to stop laughing long enough to get worked up?