25 Nov 2009

In The Loop

Following the massive critical success of his TV series The Thick Of It, Armando Iannucci, the mastermind behind a host of recent British comedy classics including The Day Today and I’m Alan Partridge, has plenty of expectations to meet with his first foray into the cinema as director of In the Loop. Taking the tried and tested formula of the TV show, which painstakingly recreates the behind the scenes machinations of British government with an accuracy that borders on the documentary, In the Loop expands the template to bring in our brothers across the pond, detailing the confusing rush to an unnamed war which is depressingly familiar.

Nothing less than a searing indictment of ‘the special relationship’ between Britain and the US and the funniest film of the year will suffice for many viewers then. On neither count does the film quite match up, though it probably comes far closer on the latter, with all the expected wit, verbal sparring and imaginative swearing of the TV show transferring effortlessly to the screen, than on the former.

But those viewers expecting an out-and-out attack on Anglo-American politics were always going to be disappointed. Iannucci operates far more within the grey areas of modern life – the politicians within The Thick Of It and In the Loop are far from cartoon villains and more often than not are portrayed as essentially decent people (barring Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s irrepressible spin doctor, perhaps) who through a mixture of careerism, self-interest and at times downright laziness slide into a succession of cock-ups and embarrassments.

The use of improvisational acting techniques, the nervous hand-held camera work and quick editing shows that the unnamed war is arrived at through confusion and stupidity instead of downright evil (small consolation perhaps). The widening of the net to bring in an American perspective also adds a new dimension to the film and allows the audience to glimpse James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano himself, in comedy mode playing General Miller, a giant ball of unchecked aggression who flip-flops throughout on whether to go to war or not.

Most of the lead actors from the TV series have successfully transferred across, with Chris Addison reprising his role as a bumbling, naïve and at times, duplicitous aide (with a different name however) while Peter Capaldi eats up the screen as Tucker and the audience may even feel a bizarre swell of pride as he curses and spits his way through Washington.

The Bush and Blair years are still worthy of closer examination and greater satirical attack than In the Loop and other recent films such as Oliver Stone’s W can muster. But this film comes closer than any to revealing the realities of modern political life and for that reason alone, it is undoubtedly essential viewing.

Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi
Certificate: 15
Runtime: 105 minutes (approx.)
Release date: 17 April 2009

Alistair Kleebauer


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