Screenwriters: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Gina McKee, Steve Coogan
Running time: 106 mins
After a brief and unsuccessful dalliance with American TV (a Christopher Guest/Mitch Hurwitz The Thick Of It pilot wasn't picked up by ABC), Armando Iannucci brings his political universe to the big screen with In The Loop. A glorious farce of spin, soundbite gaffes and crossed wires, Iannucci has harnessed all the BBC sitcom's genius for this brilliant, tack-sharp comedy.
Events are set in motion when Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Hollander) announces during a radio interview that war is "unforseeable". The comment is quickly seized upon by the media, sending Downing Street spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) into a tizz as the UK and US are in the midst of planning a war in the Middle East. Foster's Question Time appearance is swiftly nixed and he informs the press that "to walk the road of peace, we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict". Catching the attention of a clandestine US government War Committee, Simon and his new advisor Toby (Addison) head to Washington where they find themselves being used by both sides of the pro/anti-war debate.
In The Loop widens The Thick Of It's televisual scope, with the action hovering around the corridors of power in the US and the UK. Iannucci, taking inspiration from the lead-up to the Iraq war, wisely avoids venturing into the Oval Office or Number 10, instead focusing on the Machiavellian Tucker's manoeuvring of the media and small fish politicians in a high stakes chess game. In The Loop is commenting on the political machine - Hollander's flimsy, bumbling minister is a neat analogy to Blair's Labour government - but it never loses sight of its comedic raison d'être. It's an acerbically funny exploration on how words can be twisted, turned and engineered by sly operators desperate to cling on to power and status.
Capaldi's Tucker is the pulse of the film, spewing vitriol at all who cross his path - within seconds of meeting the fresh-faced Toby he's rechristened him "foetus boy" and "Ron Weasely". He's a pitbull in a smart suit, and an abrupt materialisation in a Washington hotel room lends him the air of a mythic villain. The US cast, led by James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy and Anna Chlumsy (of My Girl fame), provide sterling support, but it's Tucker's blast furnace personality (he turns swearing into an art form) and Hollander's inane attempts at nailing a killer soundbite ("Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.") that steal the show.
Shooting in a loose documentary style, Iannucci creates immediacy and speed - cleverly reflecting the nature of politics under the microscope of 24/7 rolling news coverage. That stylistic convention is only broken once, but with impact, when there's a tight close-up on Tucker's worn face as he realises how to use a pedantic constituent (Steve Coogan in a hilarious cameo) to stitch up Foster. In The Loop is a furious whirlwind of a comedy, and a swift riposte to the movie star ego massaging of the Coens' similarly-themed Burn After Reading. Hopefully, Malcolm Tucker's first silver screen adventure isn't his last.
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