In The Loop

Bottomline–the movie is wickedly, gut-wrenchingly funny. As only British satirists can do it. How you’ll like the movie depends on how far you’ve been able to distance yourself from 9/11 and the lead-up to the Iraq war.

I had to be schizophrenic about In the Loop. My film critic self and my lover of British satire appreciated the brilliant wit of the movie. But when it was over, I wanted to throw up. It’s too soon for me to be able to laugh heartily at the war.

People who have sensitive ears should avoid the movie. Foul language goes in one of my ears and out the other, but even for me the use of the f-word more than 130 times is a tad excessive.

If you have trouble understanding heavy British accents, don’t attempt it. My ears pick up accents easily so I don’t have a problem. But I’ve read that many people didn’t understand the movie at all because they couldn’t decipher what was being said.

If your mind has a tendency to wander while watching a movie, catch this one on DVD so you can rewind. The rewards of this movie are totally cerebral. It gains its emotional punch only at the end when you realize that the satire is excruciatingly close to the truth–that’s when you get sick. You have to pay absolute attention because the action is mostly verbal–and sometimes subtle–and everything happens lickety-split.

So now that you’ve been warned, here’s what you might enjoy. In the Loop is directed (Armando Ianucci, British TV series In the Thick of It) and written by British TV comedy (read satire) veterans, and a bevy of British actors, all of whom are well respected in Britain. Alas, I don’t know who they are but that doesn’t matter–the humor in the movie follows the best tradition of outrageous British satire. Just think of the movie as a long–and more nasty–Saturday Night Live skit and you’ll know what it is.

The U.S. President and the British Prime Minister want to go to war somewhere in the Mideast. But of course they can’t come out and say that. That task falls to the legions of their communications staff whose job it is to get the message out that their bosses want out but to always give the impression that it’s not the bosses delivering the message. In other words, twist the truth. The Darth Vader of this process is Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the reptilian communications chief for the British prime minister who vilifies everyone, especially Judy (Gina McKee), a competent female staffer. Why this woman works for her monster boss is the biggest mystery of the movie.

A low-level politician, the slightly daft, yet ambitious Simon Frost (Tom Hollander), whose title is British Secretary of State for International Development, is not, in his heart, in favor of going to war. He comes out during a radio interview and says something like “war is unforeseeable.” Whatever that means. But it’s definitely not supporting a war effort. So he gets pilloried by everyone in the communications staff and then one day in front of the TV cameras, he comes out with, “To walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict.” Tucker rages that Frost sounded “Like a Nazi Julie Andrews,” but he’s happy as a pig because now it seems the politician is supporting the war effort.

So “climb the mountain of conflict” becomes the by-word of all the hawks on either side of the Atlantic. Frost’s new assistant, Chris (Toby Wright, learns quickly that to keep his job he has to keep his mouth shut and never quote someone what they said the day before. Alas, he hasn’t learned to keep his pants zipped up, which gets him into trouble with his British housemates, but also helps promote the war because he got unzipped with an American gal in the state department who did her research.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., while all the communications flacks are doing their thing trying to accelerate the war process, a lone voice is holding out. This is Lt. General George Miller (James Gandolfini, TV’s Sopranos). General Miller has been to war and he doesn’t ever want to go again, no matter what the civilians who’ve never spilt blood want to do. Alas, despite his medals and his wisdom, he’s being shunt off to the side. Think Colin Powell here and you’ll get it. He is the character that I couldn’t stop thinking about when the movie was over. The anguish of valor.

Agreeing with the general is his old friend, Karen Clark (veteran American comedienne, Mimi Kennedy), an Assistant Secretary of State who wants a promotion. Her young assistant is Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky, My Girl), who has written an in-house report detailing the pros and cons of going to war. But all the cons get blacked out. Then the report is “leaked” and the end result is a pack of lies delivered to the United Nations. Sound familiar? Ha ha…

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