Review: In the Loop

The best comedy of the year so far – and the satire is spot-on.

By Matthew Champion

There is a scene in In the Loop when Peter Capaldi’s force-of-[f**king]-nature spin doctor Malcolm Tucker is accosted by an American in tourist in DC as he hot-legs it across the Capitol on his mobile to a ‘secret’ briefing.

“Hey, less of the curse words,” the overweight man implores Tucker.

Brief pause, then: “Shut the f**k up, you fat c**t,” and Tucker carries on running.

The exchange is funny, and brought one of the two largest laughs in the preview screening in central London this month (the other being Tucker warning James Gandolfini’s icebox general never to call him English again).

The problem is that when political satires derive their best reaction from overuse of curse words, alarm bells should be ringing. Except that In the Loop is so on the money with its satire and humour that it doesn’t matter.

From the team that made acclaimed BBC Four comedy The Thick of It, In the Loop sees Armando Iannucci take Capaldi’s Tucker (based on the perception but not reality of Alastair Campbell) to the United Nations from Whitehall via Washington after a painfully-inept minister (Tom Hollander) defies his collective responsibility by saying war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable”.

Hollander’s Simon Foster, based on the Nick Clegg-generation of politicians, subsequently finds himself torn between warring factions in the state department and Pentagon desperate for his on-the-face-of-it worthless endorsement.

Despite a sympathetic performance, Foster’s feebleness is overplayed in the movie, which helps to push all the characters towards outright caricature, including fresh-faced Washington interns elevated to departmental head status and peace-loving General Miller (Gandolfini) doing a Colin Powell.

While In the Loop was in production, unforeseeable events were taking place in Washington, leading to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The wave of optimism which followed his election led many to speculate the ultra-cynical message of the film would suffer as a result.

The newfound belief in the American political system from inveterately-cynical Britons might make many of In the Loop’s more crucial scenes (blackballing at the UN, clandestine war committees at the state department) seem unreal or impossible.

On the flipside, scenes of an irate (Scottish) press secretary killing a fax machine used to leak a secret memo and the same spin doctor standing over a blubbing senior Foreign Office official while he rewrites the intelligence are all too real for a UK audience.

“You write all these things in advance and think ‘is this too silly, will people believe this?’ and sometimes you think it’s not silly enough,” writer/director Iannucci told journalists in London this month.

“And then you start worrying whether the things we made up about the war in the film are actually going to happen. A lot of it is based on research and finding out what actually goes on in these enclosed government buildings but you do worry it’s too silly. And then somebody from government comes up to you after a screening and says ‘It’s far, far worse.'”

Small mercy for the In the Loop team then that their movie is far, far better than any other comedy this year. The fact the satire is so spot on is just an added bonus.