Tribeca Review: In The Loop
Any time someone asks me what my favorite movie of Tribeca has been, I always have an easy answer: In the Loop. The best part is that no one ever disagrees with me. The political farce from British TV director Armando Iannucci isn't just hilarious and brilliantly paced, and doesn't just feature clever comedic turns from unexpected people like James Gandolfini and Anna Chlumsky (a.k.a. My Girl) It's also one of the best satires to come along in quite a while, a Dr. Strangelove-level examination of all the foolishness, gossip and insecurities that actually make the world run.
The film is a spinoff from Iannucci's BBC series In The Thick Of It, but all the two seem to share is a character, Malcolm-- more on him later-- and a willingness to expose every absurdity of political life. While the series focused on domestic disputes, this time the petty drama is happening on the world stage, kicking off when British Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) flubs a radio interview and says that war is "unforeseeable." This offhand remark from a minor government official sets off a flurry of activity on both sides of the ocean, as Foster is suddenly considered an important voice on the imminent war, and the Americans try to get a grip on ongoing war discussion on their end.
What war? Where? No specifics are given, but you can assume it's taking place in a country not far from Iraq. The movie operates as both a parody of and a cheeky kiss-off to the Bush-Blair years, in which a handful of power-hungry brutes on both sides stumbled their way into a pointless war. The characters of In the Loop are more sympathetic, mostly because they're so low on the totem pole, In America, Assistant Secretary of State Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) is dealing with a broken tooth as well as world affairs, Pentagon general George Miller (James Gandolfini) is reduced to totaling soldier deaths on a child's pink calculator, and Clarke's harried assistant Liza (Chlumsky) constantly endures taunts from a prattish fellow aide named Chad (Zach Woods), who constantly hangs around the office with a squash racket in hopes that, one day, one of his higher-ups will ask him to play.
It's no better over in London, where Simon is pushed and pulled every which way by officemates Judy (Gina McKee) and Toby (Chris Addison), the new guy who starts his job on the worst possible day. But all three are overshadowed by the Prime Minister's Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a violently swearing monster who is dispatched to whip Simon into shape while also dispensing an endless list of insults ("Was it you, baby from Eraserhead?" he accuses Toby at one point). Malcolm's endless foulmouthed rage is both spot-on to the realities of politics (Rahm Emanuel, anyone?) and excruciatingly funny. With his rat-a-tat delivery and lanky, wolfish appearance, Capaldi is a tornado sweeping through the film, leaving the other characters cowering and the audience helpless with laughter.
Simon and Toby travel to Washington for a major meeting, Malcolm shows up at the U.N. to bully some foreign officials, and the many absurd plots of In the Loop all converge at an international meeting with huge consequences, but petty people. The plot, with its double-crosses and endless bureaucracies and relationships to keep track of, loses track of itself a few times. But Iannucci's sure, documentary-style direction keeps the whole thing moving so fast that the plot never really matters that much, leaving more room for Malcolm's insults and Simon's fumbling and Karen and George's conspiracies. The cast is uniformly great, everyone sailing brilliantly through the script's endless twists of phrase and rapid-fire conversations. The cast functions like a theater ensemble that's been performing together for months, playing off one another with perfect timing.
I could rave about this film all day, or just quote lines at you that wouldn't sound half as funny when they're not in Malcolm's voice. If you're not convinced yet, watch the clip from the film below, and then go see this movie. It's playing at Tribeca this week, but it also comes out theatrically in July. By then you'll be sick of hearing me rave about it, so do yourself a favor and go ahead and see it yourself.
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