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In the Loop is brilliantly profane genius
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In the Loop is brilliantly profane genius

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

In the Loop
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The new political satire In the Loop is the best film I've seen so far this year. Not only is it smart, witty, beautifully acted, incisive and biting, it is also drop-dead funny. Director Armando Iannucci and his crackerjack team of writers manufactured something special, and in a 2009 filled with so much Hollywood summertime blah, this is one British import I'm doing cartwheels over.

This movie is that good. Heck, I'm tempted to put it in the echelon of all-time great satires up with Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, Sidney Lumet's Network, Arthur Hiller's The Hospital and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. It is a comedy of fearlessly profane genius that just so happens to know one heck of a lot about the Machiavellian political mechanics of the modern world. Its balance between insight and hilarity is nearly pitch-perfect.

Hyperbole aside, In the Loop is a The Office-style comedy set in the backrooms of British and American Intelligence and follows the events leading up to the recent invasion of Iraq. It starts with mumble-mouthed government minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), who unintentionally gives an interview where he apparently backs U.S. war in the Middle East, thus starting a chain of events that place him smack-dab in the middle of a maelstrom which culminates in a flurry of statements and counterstatements at the United Nations.

The rest of the players include venomous British communication chief Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who eats up politicians like others lap up a bowl of cereal, Lt. Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini), a career soldier who thinks war is as crazy idea as any he's ever heard, and Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), the Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy who agrees with him. There's also Englishman Toby Wright (Chris Addison), Foster's chief spin doctor charged with the impossible task of helping his boss stay out of trouble, and Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), Karen's aid, whose analysis of a potential war - given the lugubrious nickname "PWPPIP" by the Pentagon - has somehow stolen the spotlight.

I love how this film bursts right out of the gate. Hollander's initial wacky moments trying to recover from his interview debacle are aces. There is an assured ease to the narrative, a lived-in authenticity that oozes right off of it. I didn't feel like there were cameras following all these people around so much as I imagined myself a fly on the wall, eavesdropping on their escapades. This intimacy ultimately pushed the film into the realm of greatness.

Granted, it helps that this movie is funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. Squirm-in-your-seat funny. Punch-your-friend-in-the-next-seat-in-the-shoulder funny. Grab-the-armrests-and-squeal-in-happy-exuberance funny. Pee-your-pants-giggling funny. Spew-popcorn-out-of-your-mouth-and-Diet-Coke-through-your-nostrils funny.

You get my point. In the Loop made me laugh. Capaldi proves to be a wizard when it comes to profanity, spewing obscenities with an elegant corrosiveness that borders on operatic. The man is, from this point forward, the Grand Pooh-bah of the four-letter-word takedown, able to tear apart anyone and everyone with the skill of a master chess player while using the verbiage of a career Navy sailor.

But everyone has their moment. Hollander could do this sort of stuff in his sleep, while Kennedy and Gandolfini play off one another almost as if they'd been doing it all their lives. Sledge Hammer! favorite David Rasche showcases a dry wit he should probably trademark, and the rest of the players, including Chlumsky, Addison, Gina McKee, Olivia Poulet and Paul Higgins, are good enough that I immediately want to personally thank each and every one of them. Even Steve Coogan's cameo ends up a wall-toppling smash, and even though he's the only actor who could be accused of doing some sort of shtick, it still works so seamlessly inside the storyline I couldn't have cared less.

I should point out that this movie is a feature-length offshoot of Iannucci and Capaldi's eight-episode BBC series The Thick of It, but don't treat that news as some sort of warning. I've never seen the program and yet I still found In the Loop to be an amazing thing. The film works whether or not you know the backstory, as the whole thing lives in a here and now that's as real as the one right outside my front door.

A good satire makes you think while at the same time also getting you to laugh. A great one does that, too, but then goes beyond to offer up insights and observations that make you ponder them long after the end credits roll. They become timeless in their prescience, their ability to see a world through boldly unique prism granting viewers a peek behind curtains we were probably never meant to see.

That is In the Loop in a nutshell. It has the yuks and it has the smarts, but it is what it has under its skirts and up its sleeves that makes it a masterwork. It made me think about the world of politics, the state of journalism and the road to Iraq in ways I hadn't before, and did so with a perverse glee that was downright infectious. I loved it, the entire thing is a piece of Beltway brilliance I'd vote head of the satirical class.

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