Friday, 14 February 2014

In The Loop and Laughing (When Not Crying)

The film:
In the Loop (2009)

The under-the-radar-factor:
The BBC Films production and IFC release made its bow at the 2009 Sundance Fest. North American receipts tailed less than $3 million despite huge critical acclaim on both sides of the ocean for this satire.

The review:

A quote from a mid-level minister in the British government sends tongues wagging and spin doctors spinning in this feature debut from Scotland's Armando Iannucci - he of The Thick of It fame, a hit UK tv show, and more recently as executive producer/writer of the Julia-Louis Dreyfus vehicle Veep on these shores.

There is tension between the U.S. and forces in the Middle East which, according to British Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), lends itself to a situation where "war is unforeseeable". This quote from a radio interview - a statement which Simon himself is unclear on as to its meaning - fits in (or doesn't) with the desires of various factions in both the UK and American governments. Foul mouthed communications director Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) sends Foster packing off to Washington D.C. His job is to make it clear that war is foreseeable...if it's not...and to represent the UK speaking to as few people as possible. The Englishman discovers the Yanks are just as good at talking out of both sides of their mouths as the same chaos, vested interests, backstabbing and secret dealings abound - but with perhaps even more delusion involved. A showdown occurs between hawkish State Department official Linton Barwick (David Rasche) and the dove side that includes Lt. General George Miller (the late James Gandolfini). Foster finds himself shipped home to look after mundane local matters in his constituency, namely the concerns of a bombastic working class bloke (Steve Coogan) who's concerned a backyard wall could cave in on his dear mother at any time and insists the matter is as urgent as any in the entire country. Still, local seniors must take a backseat to pending bloodshed as Simon later finds himself with Tucker and company at the United Nations, where a critical vote looms on the war issue. Complicating matters is a memo that everyone wanted leaked... but by others, not themselves...which may end up doctored...or not.

Follow this? Does it sound like anything makes sense? That's one of the points the film is making.

In the Loop crosses Dr. Strangelove with The Office - instead of the War Room and matters conducted at the highest levels, this film displays the behind-the-scenes insanity of practices done around the relative grunt level of institutions (which on the American side includes a lot of wet-behind-the-ear types). Careers come first, awareness comes last, and chaos reigns supreme. People know what they're doing, even if they really don't know what they are doing it for.  Gibberish is used to clarify. Alliances are made in a split-second, only to be dissolved as quickly. Kissing-ass is the rule but one never forgets to carry the back-stabbing knife for when needed. You use or will be used - it often depends on who acts the quickest, not the smartest.

The film moves at a frenzied pace and is not always easy to keep up with (I've heard more than one person say a second viewing is almost mandatory) but the experience is definitely worth it. Capaldi would make even a grandmother burst out laughing with his artfully crafted vulgarities, Hollander is excellent at conveying the average type who finds himself in over his head, and Gandolfini shows his untimely death has robbed us of someone who could have provided many more comedic master strokes, as he does here. Rasche is great at synthesizing greed, corruption and lying into the alpha-male embodiment of his character. Mimi Kennedy is spot-on in displaying a state official whose intentions are good but approach is a losing cause. And Coogan steals the scenes where he portrays the man-on-the-street who shouldn't be left off the hook for having outlandish misplaced priorities fueled by delusional self-importance. It would be difficult to imagine a stronger, more perfectly suited cast.

Hitchcock could make you laugh and scream in close succession. In the Loop will have you chuckle throughout when not leaving you uneasy. The world of warfare and diplomacy on display here looks ridiculous but feels a little too real. The film doesn't so much have an ending that concludes matters but rather more of a sudden halt to allow all - some of the characters and all of the audience - to finally contemplate what really has been done.

The film is a bit flat looking in regards to the visuals and you may not care much for these people (some of the minor characters not mentioned above are a little too superficial and merely decorate at best and take up space at worst). Still, you will care about their world, which also happens to be ours. In the Loop is a satire worth taking in.

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