You might not expect a political satire to giddily flaunt such persistent profanity, but In the Loop does just that. An abrasive, biting, very funny dose of piss and vinegar courses through nearly every minute of the film. And beneath every F-bomb and scatological analogy is a paper-thin, power-hungry government dimwit who can't imagine another way to express himself. Director Armando Iannuci successfully shows us that such characters can be dangerous -- and stupid, of course.
In Oliver Stone's W., a war initiative is like a well-formed snowball, gradually and evenly picking up speed among a mountain of nodding heads. With In the Loop, it's a messy cyclone of spare ideas and empty souls, lying and raw hatred, smugness personified. Funny stuff, actually. That's because the film's U.S. and British government leaders play a brutal game that feels like The Ten Best Ways to Humiliate Your Colleagues. And whether we admit it or not, it's fun to watch people get reamed. Article continues below
In the Loop is wall-to-wall dialogue -- in alternating accents, of course -- so you have to stay on your toes. On the UK side, hapless government minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) makes a bizarre screw-up during a radio interview, leading many to wonder if the U.S. will begin military aggression in the Middle East. Simon spends the rest of the film digging a deeper hole, unintentionally creating a catchphrase for the press, and getting chewed out in increasingly creative ways by his boss, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi).
If a super-R-rated version of Office Space were ever in the works, Capaldi would be the star. His ability to tear a new butthole with a flurry of hysterically disgusting quips and phrases is the strange, tortured heart of In the Loop, and it's a better film for it. He delivers every damning line with a level of disdain both hateful and witty. We can only laugh. And thank our stars we don't work for some unsatisfied, unstable fed.
On the U.S. side, liberal Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) tries to confirm the existence of a poorly hidden war commission, especially after her plucky assistant (Anna Chlumsky, all grown up) releases an analysis saying war's probably not a good idea. Some horrid honchos, led by the super smarmy Linton Barwick (David Rasche, United 93), work to squash the details. Or change them. Whatever works.
Through all this feigned diplomacy and covert secrecy, the only fairly likable character is a UK PR guy named Toby Wright (Chris Addison), a clever chap with connections in both countries, and ways to make things change. Can one man stop a war? Come on, this is satire! The guy can barely hang on to a girl...
James Gandolfini pitches in as a paper general on the fringe, and he gets to exchange some spiked barbs with Capaldi in a bile-filled back-and-forth that's not for the meek. It's always refreshing to see Gandolfini play someone other than Tony Soprano, of course; here, his combination of pursed-lip sarcasm and familiar intimidation definitely adds flavor.
Which is a welcome addition since In the Loop's constant profane parrying feels a bit repetitive once we hit the final act, like a comedian dealing the same shtick a few jokes too long. But there are such smarts here that flaw is easy to overlook, especially as the film rolls up to its inevitable finish.