In The Loop
UK (2009) Dir. Armando Iannucci
Politics has always been the best target for satire but in recent years, politicians and their decision making have become such a joke it is difficult to mock them, as it would be parodying a parody. So instead, let’s get back to the simpler times of 2009….
During an interview on BBC Radio, Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is asked about the possibility of war in the Middle East and says it was “unforeseeable”. The PM’s aggressive spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) is not happy and orders Foster to toe the party line. Meanwhile Foster’s new aid Toby Wright (Chris Addison), through his girlfriend Suzy (Olivia Poulet), gets Foster a place in a Foreign Office meeting with US diplomat Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy).
Being anti-war, Clark cites a paper written by her aid Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky) which opposes intervention and hints at a secret War committee being set up in the US by high ranking official Linton Barwick (David Rasche), based on unsubstantiated intel. Despite being told to stay silent, Foster contradicts his earlier statement saying the government would be prepared for war, incurring Tucker’s wrath once again as he has to prevent a potential international incident.
I have to confess, I was watching the car wreck press statement by Dominic Cummings (for those of you outside of the UK he’s our latest political national embarrassment and he’s not even a politician) and felt compelled to revisit this big screen spinoff from the savage TV satire The Thick Of It. Even 11 years later, not only is this still frighteningly relevant and topical but oddly prescient in how even more inept our politicians would become.
Armando Iannucci has been at the forefront of British satirical and alternative comedy since the early 1990s, bringing the likes of The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge and more to life. The Thick Of It will likely go down as his magnum opus purely for its terrifying verisimilitude in recreating the machinations that go on behind the closed doors in the world of politics, to the point that it must be so accurate, no-one would dare sue if/when they recognise themselves in it.
The problem is that the absurdity of politics has now superseded anything Iannucci has created, leaving us with many cases of life imitating art, making Iannucci either a gifted visionary or a modern day Nostradamus. In this film, Iannucci flexes his satirical muscles beyond the UK to the US, which was still had George W. Bush as President when this was being filmed, which would be different if this was written during Obama’s run.
Simon Foster is one of those men who seems to nice but dim to be a politician which is just how the aggressively sweary – or swearily aggressive – Malcolm Tucker likes them as they are easier to crush in a single profane filled tongue lashing. Getting little support from his chief assistant Judy Molloy (Gina McKee), Foster tries to buddy up to Toby, who is keen to make a big impression in his new job but didn’t count on meeting Tucker, and his equally psychotic Number 2 Jamie McDonald (Paul Higgins).
Whilst Foster struggles to his head above water and his balls out of Tucker’s reach, he has to deal with an angry constituent Paul (Steve Coogan) about Foster’s office wall falling down into Paul’s mother’s garden. This might seem like a trite distraction but Iannucci and his writers are far too clever for it not to mean something more significant in the long run.
Meanwhile in the US, there are plenty of similar examples of professional incompetence and shady dealings going on with Barwick trying to discredit Lisa’s paper by doctoring the meeting minutes whilst Clark tries to uncover the secret war committee. Clark has a powerful ally she can call on, General George Miller (James Gandolfini), who also is opposed to war and wants to use Foster to shift the attention from the US to UK to paint them as the bellicose country. But there is a tornado on its way across the Atlantic that might upset this plan and its name is Malcolm Tucker.
Granted, it sounds complex in writing and in execution it takes a while for some of it to sink in but everything soon fits into the sinuous groove and is bewildering in how it all comes together and stays together. There are so many moving parts something has to give but Iannucci is a perfectionist in keeping all his plates spinning – it was impressive when done within a self-contained 30-minute TV episode but for a 100-minute film with multiple plot threads, it is truly a marvel.
Unlike most TV spin-offs, Tucker and Jamie are the only characters to resume their roles here, the rest of the main cast are present, but as different characters with new names, though they are pretty much similar to the TV roles anyway. The US cast join in on the fun and carry over the same vérité style performances but with dialogue suited to their own rhythms, idioms, and speech patterns, adding so much credibility to the portrayals.
Just as he did in the TV series, Peter Capaldi dominates this film as the brute in a suit Malcolm Tucker, one of the greatest characters ever created. He is as quotable as The Bible but mostly unrepeatable, every line is dripping with enough menace and vitriol to cause entire continents to wither in fear. Even the excessive profanity is remarkably creative thus naughtily funny, but one should also not the many subtle visual gags and foibles of the cast for laughs too.
In The Loop might be 11 years old now but is every bit applicable to the state of current politics, whilst being a terrifying presage for today’s key figures (Trump, Johnson, et al) as risible comic figures in their own right who are beyond satire. At least this film is intentionally hilarious…