Ah, for the days when we invaded countries based on fabricated information. The British political comedy In the Loop finds laughs in spoofing the colossal failures, American and British, that preceded the war in Iraq - a country that's never named, but it's clear what this is about.
Yes, this movie is a grim satire. And is there a better kind of satire? If Barack Obama's 2008 campaign gave you hope in the ability of competent public employees to solve problems, In the Loop just might bring you down. In the film's versions of Washington and London, government officials, whether elected or in the bureaucracy, devote most of their energies to promoting their careers.
Like Hal Ashby's meditative 1979 satire Being There, also about conniving, self-absorbed Washingtonians, In the Loop begins with an accident. In an apparent slip of the tongue, Simon (Tom Hollander), a minister in the British government, says in an interview that war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable." In response to Simon's gaffe, the Prime Minister's angry enforcer Malcolm (Peter Capaldi) spews a torrent of obscenities (he spews torrents of obscenities in response to everything). Simon attempts to modulate the statement without actually retracting it. No, that technique wasn't invented by American politicians.
But powerful people find Simon's remark useful. He goes to important meetings and, thanks to his sudden prominence, hopes to move out of his government backwater. Meanwhile, in D.C., the State Department functionary Karen (Mimi Kennedy) seizes on the "unforeseeable" comment as she and a peace-loving general (James Gandolfini) work to block the warmongering of her department rival Linton (David Rasche).
There are many more characters and plot threads than I have mentioned, and all of this plays out at breakneck speed. In the Loop was spun off from the BBC comedy series The Thick of It, and the film bears the marks of influential British comedy shows like The Office - the ensemble cast, the shaky hand-held camera, the glib dialog. In this instance, I'm not sure these translate that well to feature length. The dialogue, in particular, is a letdown. Too many jokes aren't that funny, and the endless profanity is a distraction.
That doesn't diminish the film's impact, though. In the Loop has powerful, disturbing things to say about government officials who are largely motivated by vanity, ambition and fear of being out of the loop. But the film, directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, has special scorn for a different type of bureaucrat: the type who is vain and ambitious and can get people killed in wars.
I'm thinking of the State Department official Linton. With his rimless glasses, icy mein and chilling euphemisms he strongly resembles Donald Rumsfeld, formerly of the Defense Department (and Robert McNamara before him). This savvy politico's clever machinations recall the run-up to invading Iraq as depicted in Oliver Stone's W. That film argued that the war was, more than anything, the result of bureaucratic maneuvering. In the Loop tells a similar story.