Film Reviews

In The Loop Armando Iannucci

Rating - 8/10

Glaswegian writer/director/producer Armando Iannucci’s CV reads like a list of essential British comedy of the last fifteen years. His first foray into television, 1994’s The Day Today, launched the career of Chris Morris, and featured contributions from pre-Hollywood (and, at that time, still funny) Steve Coogan. He teamed up with Coogan again for the hugely successful Knowing Me, Knowing You... with Alan Partridge and I’m Alan Partridge, before turning his hand to performing in the underrated Armando Iannucci Shows.

In 2005 Iannucci returned to the director’s chair for political satire The Thick of It, which became a cult hit on BBC4. In my opinion The Thick of It is Iannucci's greatest achievement. It’s like a strikingly cynical update of the legendary 80s sitcom Yes Minister, in which the polite power struggle between minister Jim Hacker and civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby has been replaced by an all-out war, featuring the hapless minister Hugh Abbot and the terrifying spin doctor Malcolm Tucker. Sadly the project stalled after one series when actor Chris Langham, who played Abbot, was convicted for downloading indecent images of children from the Internet.

In the Loop is Iannucci's film debut, and could be described as a cinematic reshuffle of his acclaimed series. In fact, with the exception of Langham, all of the key players from The Thick of It feature here, although many of them have been redeployed as new characters, presumably to widen the appeal of the film. Wisely, Iannucci has kept his most potent comedic weapon, the PM's rabid enforcer Malcolm Tucker, who is played to perfection by Peter Capaldi.

The film follows the diminutive Simon Foster MP, Minister for International Development, in the wake of a radio interview in which he stated that a conflict in the Middle East was “unforeseeable”, much to the dismay of Tucker, who feels he has broken the party line. In a subsequent TV interview, a flustered Foster, determined to restore his reputation but seemingly ill-equipped to make a single articulate point, makes a catastrophic quip about “climbing the mountain of conflict”, which, Tucker jokes, makes him sound “like a Nazi Julie Andrews”. A fact-finding mission to Washington brings the British characters face-to-face with a trigger-happy US politician, clearly inspired by Donald Rumsfeld, and a pacifist General, memorably played by James Gandolfini, and political disaster ensues.

Some critics have suggested that In the Loop loses its way during the Washington-based scenes, but I would have to disagree. The barroom showdown between Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker and Gandolfini’s General Miller is particularly inspired, as is another memorable scene in which General Miller calculates the number of troops available for the proposed conflict on a toy calculator before concluding “that's not enough. That's the amount that are going to die. And at the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you've lost.”

In the Loop isn’t a perfect film. A few of the subplots (Toby’s American affair springs to mind) seem slightly unlikely and look to have been shoehorned into the film merely to support gags later on. At 106 minutes it felt a touch too long and I’m sure it would have benefited from a more critical edit. On the technical side, the audio and video quality was noticeably flawed at times; even for a film shot in the cinema-vérité style, this should be easily avoidable in this day and age.  

These are all relatively minor quibbles, though. Political satire is always a minefield and while In the Loop occasionally ventures a little too far into the realm of farce, it’s still the best comedy to reflect on recent Anglo-American politics and the march to war in Iraq by a country mile. There’s some great swearing, too.