'In The Loop': Wartime Fever As Screwball Tragedy

16:9: Tom Hollander in 'In the Loop' i i

The road to peace? When a low-level British minister (Tom Hollander) steps into the spotlight with an awkward comment on "unforeseeable" war, international decision-making quickly spirals out of control. Nicola Daval/IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption Nicola Daval/IFC Films
16:9: Tom Hollander in 'In the Loop'

The road to peace? When a low-level British minister (Tom Hollander) steps into the spotlight with an awkward comment on "unforeseeable" war, international decision-making quickly spirals out of control.

Nicola Daval/IFC Films

In the Loop

  • Director: Armando Iannucci
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 106 minutes

Unrated: Pervasive profanity

With: James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Anna Chlumsky

(Recommended)

Watch Clips

Note: Clips contain strong language.

See if this sounds familiar: A U.S. president is pushing for a war in the Middle East, going for a U.N. resolution though there's no reliable intelligence to back him up. And the Brits are staying carefully neutral, to give their prime minister room to maneuver.

Been there, seen that, you say? Not like this, you haven't. In the blistering British political satire In the Loop, bureaucratic bungling in the run-up to war is played for scabrous laughs, not a few of which will be pained laughs of recognition.

The fun begins when the PM's communications director, Martin Tucker (Peter Capaldi) hears low-level foreign-relations minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) not staying carefully neutral on a talk show.

Specifically, Foster says something innocuous-sounding about war being "unforeseeable" — which unfortunately suggests both that it's being considered, and that Foster doesn't think it's a good idea.

Both notions contradict the official government line, so Tucker rushes to Foster's office, spewing vitriol — and this is a guy who can really spew — to order that the minister make no more public statements until he learns to toe the line.

Meanwhile, on our side of the Atlantic, a State Department official (Mimi Kennedy) has sniffed out a "war committee" and is trying to rally administration doves, including a general (James Gandolfini) who tends to exhibit pacifist sympathies and anger-management issues in tandem.

They decide that teaming up with this British guy who talked about war being unforeseeable could help "internationalize the dissent," which might work — except that Simon's gotten in front of the press again, to clarify.

Lots of things, he says, are unforeseeable. "For the plane in the fog, the mountain is unforeseeable, but then it is suddenly very real, and inevitable."

Mimi Kennedy and James Gandolfini in 'In the Loop' i i

Friendly fire: A U.S. Army general (James Gandolfini) and a State Department official (Mimi Kennedy) get caught up in the rush to war in the satire In the Loop. Nicola Dove/IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption Nicola Dove/IFC Films
Mimi Kennedy and James Gandolfini in 'In the Loop'

Friendly fire: A U.S. Army general (James Gandolfini) and a State Department official (Mimi Kennedy) get caught up in the rush to war in the satire In the Loop.

Nicola Dove/IFC Films

His press secretary looks terrified as the press corps starts screaming, "Who's the mountain?"

Simon: "To walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict."

That, screams his furious boss, makes Simon sound like a "Nazi Julie Andrews."

Director Armando Iannucci co-scripted In the Loop with an eye to making war fever play as a sort of screwball tragedy. Imagine a mashup of Dr. Strangelove and Wag the Dog, and you've got the general idea.

The performances are explosively funny, from Hollander's increasingly bewildered and way-out-of-his-depth Simon to Chris Addison's hapless PR fledgling.

But the star is Peter Capaldi, doing some of the most ornate, inventive, unprintable swearing you'll ever hear. Truly a Boss From Hell for the ages.

The thing that distinguishes In the Loop, though, beyond its performances, and the director's sprightly way with a handheld camera, is that it's so easy to imagine that this really is how governments make earth-shaking decisions: attack dogs going rabid, folks who actually know something ducking for cover, and low-level screwups turning into world-class catastrophes.

You laugh — and laugh — because the alternative would be to weep for us all.

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