Friday, June 1, 2012

In the Loop (2009)

At the 82nd Oscars in 2010 there was a rare sort of nominated film on the ballot for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.  Some of that has to do with its being a foreign film (produced by BBC Films) but the larger part of its distinction was due to its genre: comedy.  In the Loop would go on to lose in that category to Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire which is the sort of film you might expect to win.  However, it did win at the 2009 British Comedy Awards for Best Comedy Film - so you know as far as being British and funny it was peerless among other releases that year.

Strongly based on director/writer Armando Iannucci's BBC television series "The Thick of It" on which pace, style and even some characters are borrowed, In the Loop is set in the political domain of both the US and UK.  In the British government we follow Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) who is the Secretary of State for International Development.  His notoriously ambiguous parlance that "war is unforseeable" sort of kicks off the diplomatic madness that ensues in this film.  Meanwhile, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) who absolutely steals any scene he's a part of with his vituperative scowling (thinka pissed off Ari Gold with a Scottish brogue) oversees Foster as the Director of Coomunications for the Prime Minister.  His job is to make sure Foster doesn't massively bumble anything as the PM would see it.  Additionally, there is Toby Wright (Chris Addison) who has begun his very first day as a Special Advisor to Secretary Foster.  He is young, generally bright but cocky to a fault.  Finally there is Judy Molloy (Gina McKee) who also works for Foster's department.  Judy seems to be just about the only one on top of things and as a result is usually ragged on and blamed for every slipup.  Perfectly backwards which is to describe the mood in this film to a tee.

British actors: Peter Capaldi, left, and Chris Addison, right. 
Both starred in Iannucci's sitcom The Thick of It.
On the American end we have Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy, who is trying to stave off war and her assistant, Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), who wrote the only paper and/or set of facts cited throughout the many committee sessions for and against war.  In cahoots with Clark's anti-war push is Lt. Gen. Miller (James Gandolfini) who lumbers around the film carrying clout and attempts to balance the scale with the UK's Tucker in terms of boisterous mouthing off and sentiment.  Also, for the US there is the dry and efficient Linton Barwick (David Rasche), Assistant Secretary of State for Policy, who is hawking for war.  He manipulates Liza's paper and is at odds with Karen Clark.  Lastly, there is Chad (Zach Woods), who is a junior staffer at the State Department.  Recognizable from The Office (US version) as Gabe, he mainly gives Liza a hard time and provides additional humor as a stereotypical D.C. sycophant.

The majority of the film revolves around the two U.S. Assistants to Secretary of State, Clark and Barwick, butting heads regarding the war.  Foster and thus the whole ensemble of British characters gets dragged into this because of his aforementioned misinterpreted quote with the press.  Both Clark and Barwick view it as a weapon either can use.  In truth, Foster is anti-war but he tries to "walk the line" as a result of Tucker's insistance.  This leads to his inability to ever clearly voice himself which Barwick seizes to his advantage leaving Clark in the dust, nonplussed and frustrated.

Filmed on location in D.C. and London, the similarities between the two Western Worlds' governments are endless to the point where it all seems to blend.  At one point Clark is patched through to Foster where she demands that someone who leaked information to the Press be fired.  It takes a moment for him to realize that as a member of the U.S. government she has no authority over him, a member of the Prime Minister's cabinet.

U.S. actors: Mimi Kennedy and James Gandolfini.
The story's turning point comes when after Simon Foster's first disasterous trip (of two) to the U.S. he returns to a constituent meet where he comes across Paul Michaelson (Steve Coogan).  Coogan is hilarious as a ticked off memeber of Foster's district who is livid about an actual wall belonging to the International Development that is collapsing slowly onto his mother's property.  Though Toby and Foster both try their best to assuage his worries, their attempts at providing Paul with weak buttresses (seen even to the "untrained eye") and empty promises.  Eventually it is this seemingly non-issue that brings down Simon Foster, capping off the ridiculousness perpetuated in In the Loop.

The film takes on something like a mockumentary style, though there are no one-on-one confessionals made directly to the camera or anything like that.  Regardless it is mostly hand-held camerawork, and at plenty of times Christopher Guest's style shines through.  Any fan of his work will surely appreciate the humor here.  On that same note, those of us who appreciate the unbridled satirization of government's inner workings will get a kick out In the Loop

Perhaps the clearest message I got in watching In the Loop was that every character seemed to have his or her own unique agenda, while none seem to heed each other, the facts, or for that matter the people who put them in power.  Thankfully, not only does this make for extremely dysfunctionl government, it makes for great black comedy.

-Review by Mike Dorfman

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