Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

Aug 26, 2009

In the Loop (2009)

By Devan Scott

I’ve got to give George W. Bush credit. Not since the height of the Cold War has there been a more ripe time for satire than during his tenure as leader of the free world. There’s a reason satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have become household names; they’ve managed to capitalize on this climate. How is it, then, that it took nine years for the film industry to do the same? From Oliver Stone’s ill-fated W. to the tepid War, Inc., every cinematic attempt at skewering the political mess of the post-9/11 Bush era has failed spectacularly. Luckily, the British finally intervened this summer and produced In The Loop, the smartest and most insightful political satire I’ve had the pleasure of seeing since Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb redefined the genre in 1964.

Like Strangelove, this is a film that doesn’t quite so much satirize the policies of the era as skewer the screwed-up apparatus of inertness that the world of modern politics seems to have become. In the world of In The Loop, politics represent nothing more than a path for career advancement; it’s a machine where everyone’s trying to push legislation and invade nations for no discernable reason other than climbing the endless bureaucratic ladder. Right or left, it doesn’t matter; they’re all self-serving and clueless, this film posits. This is an incredibly cynical, despondent work that would certainly be immensely depressing if not for it being so extraordinarily funny.

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Political satires aren’t generally known for being sidesplittingly hysterical, but In The Loop does its best to buck the trend. The dialogue is an absolutely marvelous string of one-liners, insults, and threats, many of which are so ridiculously byzantine and elaborate that it takes a considerable amount of concentration to simply keep up with the script amidst all the laughter. Unlike most contemporary comedies, which often exhibit a startling tendency to dumb themselves down to ensure the lowest common denominator understands the humor, the jokes here actually require the viewer to use their brains instead of sitting back and passively letting the comedy soak in.

This isn’t to say the humor is dry, dull, or procedural in any sense; in fact, this is an extremely lively, impetuous film. It’s also vulgar beyond all belief. Each character is more offensive than the next, using “Fuck” like it was a vowel. Most gloriously profane of all is perpetually aggravated spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi as a whirlwind of Scottish fury who seems bent on singlehandedly elevating cursing to an art form. He’s given the lion’s share of memorable lines, and with good reason – this is an astonishing turn by Capaldi, whose performance, which recalls John Cleese at the height of his verbal bile-spewing abilities, practically steals the entire film from his costars.

Not that the rest of the cast isn’t great. Of special note is Tom Hollander, who may very well be the most physically unimposing actor working today; he embodies self-righteous spinelessness as Simon Foster, a gaffe-prone minister who incurs the wrath of Malcolm Tucker after calling possible American and British military action in the middle east “Unforeseeable” and declaring that “To walk the road of peace, one must first climb the mountain of conflict” (To which Malcolm replies “You sound like Nazi Julie Andrews!”). His comments attract the attention of various American bigwigs who manage to spin them into a ringing endorsement for an invasion of an unspecified nation that bears a startling resemblance to Iraq.

The fact that the nation being invaded is never identified by name is indicative of the surprising amount of rather subtle commentary present in In The Loop. Instead of beating the audience over the head with a ‘Here’s exactly what you should think’ message, the malevolent undertones are allowed to seep naturally into the film, slowly but surely engulfing everything in a sense of hopelessness. Like any great satire, no easy answers are given, and no specific ideology is hawked as the answer to all our ills.

And what a great satire this film is. In the worthy tradition of Duck Soup and Dr. Strangelove, In The Loop masks its overflowing bitterness and pessimism towards the current political climate behind a veil of farce, heightening the unease and alarm as that veil is gradually pulled back to reveal the distressing truth behind of the situation. That is, if you’re not too busy laughing to notice.

Two Words: Tucker's Law.


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