LOS ANGELES — Earlier this summer, we had “The Hurt Locker,” by far the best drama yet about the Iraq war. Now, we have “In the Loop,” a comedy that finally manages to satirize the war successfully.
Granted, it doesn’t feature a minute of combat. It doesn’t even take place in Iraq or mention the war by name. Nevertheless, director and co-writer Armando Iannucci’s aim is clear: a skewering of U.S. involvement in that region of the Middle East, and more specifically, the support Britain provided.
The aesthetic and tone may remind American viewers of “The Office,” with its faux-verite camerawork and deadpan dialogue that was often improvised; some of the one-liners breeze by so quickly and subtly, you might miss them, so pay attention. But “In the Loop” actually evolved from Iannucci’s BBC series “The Thick of It,” and he co-scripted it with the show’s writers. It follows politicos on both sides of the Atlantic who are clueless, scheming, inept, self-serving or all of the above.
In London, there’s Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the minister for international development who makes the vague statement during a radio interview that “war is unforeseeable.” The prime minister’s director of communications, Malcolm Tucker (the brilliantly acerbic and profane Peter Capaldi) freaks out upon hearing this — then again, he’d freak out over a paper cut — and tries to do damage control.
Nevertheless, in Washington, government officials seize on Simon’s words as validation for entering combat. They include Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), the suspicious U.S. assistant secretary for diplomacy who invites Simon to come and explain his comments further, and the pompous State Department hawk Linton Barwick (David Rasche).
Various military leaders, interns and hangers-on confuse things further. Inexperienced and pasty young Toby Wright (Chris Addison), who’s just started his new job as a political adviser in Simon’s office, tags along with him on his trip to Washington. He becomes surprisingly useful when it turns out he knows an aide in Karen’s office, old college friend Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), who’s written a supposedly explosive anti-war briefing paper. (She and a geeky, butt-kissing office rival, played by Zach Woods, have some of the film’s most entertaining exchanges.)
James Gandolfini, probably the best-known name in “In the Loop,” seems out of place, though, as a general who’s Karen’s chief ally at the Pentagon. He just doesn’t seem comfortable in the role and he doesn’t get much to do, especially with other character actors chewing the scenery all around him. Steve Coogan, who previously worked with Iannucci on the British series “The Day Today” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge,” also feels wedged in as a small-town resident who repeatedly phones Simon to pester him about fixing a retaining wall. (It’s a real waste of an actor who’s so skilled at this kind of comedy.)
Obviously, no one has the access, information or clout that they think they have, or that others think they have. We get the joy of watching them all scurry around in the name of diplomacy, or power, or whatever. They may be buffoons, but they’re never boring.
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