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'In The Loop': Wartime Fever As Screwball Tragedy

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'In The Loop': Wartime Fever As Screwball Tragedy


'In The Loop': Wartime Fever As Screwball Tragedy

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Political satire in this country thrives mostly on television: "The Daily Show," for instance, and "The Colbert Report." But in Britain, satire has leaped to the big screen in a new film called "In the Loop."

Bob Mondello says American audiences would be wise to follow.

BOB MONDELLO: See if this sounds familiar: The U.S. is pushing for a war in the Middle East, going for a U.N. resolution though there is no reliable intelligence to back him up, and the Brits are staying carefully neutral, which is why the prime minister's communications director turns purple when he hears Simon Foster, a low-level minister, not staying neutral on a talk show.

(Soundbite of movie, "In The Loop")

Mr. TOM HOLLANDER (Actor): (As Simon Foster) I think that war is unforeseeable.

Mr. PETER CAPALDI (Actor): (As Malcolm Tucker) Simon, Simon.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Unforeseeable?

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) Yes.

Mr. CAPALDI: (As Malcolm Tucker) No, you do not think that, Simon.

MONDELLO: The communications director rushes to Simon's office to tell him that he can make no more public statements until he learns to keep to the government's line.

(Soundbite of film, "In the Loop")

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) I was going to keep to the line. I was going to say I don't think war is unforeseeable.

Mr. CAPALDI: (As Malcolm Tucker) What is it then?

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) I don't know. Foreseeable?

Mr. CAPALDI: (As Malcolm Tucker) No. Not foreseeable. That's (BEEP). Declare a war? Declare a war? Write this down.

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) It's neither foreseeable nor unforeseeable.

Mr. CAPALDI: (As Malcolm Tucker) Right, so not inevitable, but not - you'd better work on this line: evitable.

MONDELLO: Meanwhile, on our side of the Atlantic, a State Department official has sniffed out a war committee and is trying to rally administration doves, including a general she spies at a Washington cocktail party. Pulling him away to a child's playroom, she asks him about troop levels, and he picks up the only calculator he sees.

(Soundbite of film, "In the Loop")

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI (Actor): (As Lieutenant General George Miller) So you add these together…

Ms. MIMI KENNEDY (Actor): (As Karen Clarke) Yeah.

MONDELLO: It's pink and has pictures of bunnies on it.

(Soundbite of film, "In the Loop")

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Lieutenant General George Miller) So, this is the number of combat troops available for an invasion, according to these figures.

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (As character) Twelve.

Ms. KENNEDY: (As Karen Clarke) Thousand? Okay.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Lieutenant General George Miller) Twelve thousand troops, but 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.

Unidentified Woman: (As character) Bye for now.

MONDELLO: They decide they should team up with this British guy who talked about war being unforeseeable to help internationalize the dissent, which might work except that Simon's gotten in front of the press again to clarify.

(Soundbite of film, "In the Loop")

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) …also unforeseeable. For the plane in the fog, and the mountain is unforeseeable, but then it is suddenly very real and inevitable.

MONDELLO: His press secretary looks terrified.

(Soundbite of film, "In the Loop")

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) The mountain in the metaphor is a completely hypothetical mountain that could represent anything.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) But you (unintelligible). Sorry…

Mr. HOLLANDER: (As Simon Foster) What I'm saying is that to walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict.

MONDELLO: Which, as his furious boss screams, 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 mash-up of "Dr. Strangelove" and "Wag the Dog," and you've got the general idea.

The performances are explosively funny, from Tom Hollander's way-out-of-his-depth Simon to the peacenik general that James Gandolfini gives anger management issues, but the star is Peter Capaldi, doing some of the most ornate, inventive, unplayable-on-the-radio swearing you will ever hear, truly a boss from hell for the ages.

(Soundbite of film, "In the Loop")

Mr. CAPALDI: (As Malcolm Tucker) Simon, I don't like finding out by people employed by this government via the news unless they've just died. Be here now.

MONDELLO: The thing that distinguishes "In the Loop" 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 screw-ups turning into world-class catastrophes.

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

I'm Bob Mondello.

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