Things To Do

In the Loop (R) ***½

Peter Capaldi and James Gandolfini battle it out. Photo: Nicola Dove.
Peter Capaldi and James Gandolfini battle it out. Photo: Nicola Dove.

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

Everyone in Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop is out to get everyone else, or at least to manipulate or back stab them in some way. The objective is not sex or money but power — real power, the kind that can start wars. The corridors of English-speaking governments (British Parliament and Washington, D.C.) have rarely seemed this treacherous — or this comical. The subject of In the Loop is timely and serious, but the movie is absolutely hilarious, a satire as brisk and fleet as a farce and as profane as a convention of Tony Montana impersonators.

The verbal acrobatics of In the Loop, which was written by Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche and spun off their BBC television series The Thick of It, are astonishing. Everyone talks a mile a minute, and what pours from their mouths is so consistently, bracingly funny that the movie has no dead spots — not a single scene in which the energy sags.

Befitting a film in which words are wielded like brickbats, the plot of In the Loop begins with a slip of the tongue. During a radio interview, the British Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) casually remarks that “war is unforeseeable” (exactly which war is never specified, but the obvious intent is Iraq).

The comment sends the prime minister’s Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who on a good day wakes up in a seething rage, into an apoplectic fit.

Foster is a small (literally), cowardly, ineffectual man — a world-class bungler who hopes no one will notice. Tucker is sharp and conniving and angry, always the smartest guy in the room and unable to tolerate the stupidity around him.

The two are at the center of the movie, which follows the repercussions of Foster’s “unforeseeable” remark as it is seized and exploited by doves and hawks within the British and U.S. governments. Leading the pro-war charge is Linton Barwick (David Rasche), the U.S. assistant secretary of policy, who keeps a live grenade on his desk as a paperweight.

Hoping to thwart his plans is Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), the U.S. assistant secretary of diplomacy, who is so stressed she has started to bleed from her teeth. With clarity and precision, In the Loop tracks the actions of its large cast of politicians and aides on both sides of the Atlantic as they pursue their individual goals by whatever means necessary.

Iannucci gives every character a distinct personality, agenda and even degree of intelligence, and part of the humor of In the Loop comes from watching the various players cross swords. When the irritable Tucker clashes with an influential American general (James Gandolfini, proving there’s life after The Sopranos), the encounter leaves you with a dozen new colorful insults to add to your vocabulary.

Most of the best lines in In the Loop cannot be repeated here, but Iannucci and his writers have outdone themselves in their ability to continually one-up the uproariously cruel manner in which the characters tear into each other. Coursing beneath the humor is a serious critique of the petty grudges and power plays among politicos that may start out small but can wind up affecting the course of history.

In the Loop doesn’t entirely transcend its TV roots: Unlike the best political satires, such as Dr. Strangelove, there’s never the sense here that something global is at stake. But if this movie is any indication, then an hour and a half of British television is vastly preferable to most Hollywood comedies. In the Loop is furiously smart, sharp and makes such creative use of the English language that even George Carlin would have blushed. Forget The Hangover: This is the funniest movie of the summer.

Cast: Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Mimi Kennedy, James Gandolfini, Anna Chlumsky, Gina McKee, David Rasche, Zach Woods, Steve Coogan.

Director: Armando Iannucci.

Screenwriters: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche.

Producers: Kevin Loader, Adam Tandy.

An IFC Films release. Running time: 106 minutes. Non-stop vulgar language. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque.