Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review: IN THE LOOP (2009)

"In the Loop" is a writhing, nasty, acidic takedown of government bureaucracy in the U.K. and the U.S., in which even the apparently principled characters are unlikeable. It's also one of the funniest movies I've seen in the past few years.

Set mostly in drab but chaotic offices and halls of power, director and co-writer's Armando Iannucci's satire takes aim at the U.S.-led and U.K.-abetted rush to war in Iraq, without ever mentioning by name the targeted country or the names of the American president or the British prime minister.

Tom Hollander ("Gosford Park," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") plays the ostensible lead, an inept British government minister named Simon Foster who doesn't really want to go to war but can't quite help suggesting otherwise in a series of gaffes. Still, some U.S. officials decide to enlist Foster as their "meat puppet" in an attempt to short circuit the war machine. Needless to say, and I don't really think I'm spoiling anything by saying this, the "plan" falls apart after one hilarious failure of nerve and communication after another.

"In the Loop" is a vulgar symphony of insults, and Peter Capaldi, reprising his role as spin doctor Malcolm Tucker from the U.K. sitcom "The Thick of It," is the maestro. His eyes bulge, his forehead is thick with throbbing veins, and if you cut him, I'm sure he'd bleed cobra venom. His put-downs are lovingly crafted bonbons of poison and, incredibly, pop culture references. The man is clearly enraged at all moments of the day, so I'm surprised he'd have moments to watch TV or read the "Harry Potter" books.  Still, I'd gladly watch two hours of Capaldi's Tucker berating random people.

Thankfully, though, the movie does not suffer when Capaldi is off-screen. Every performer in this perfectly cast ensemble shines, from James Gandolfini as an anti-war U.S. general to Anna Chlumsky, all grown up from her "My Girl" days, as an American aide whose cogent, common sense paper that weighs against invasion becomes just another hapless victim of the indifferent machinery of diplomacy and war.

"In the Loop" could have just been another sitcom blown up to feature proportions, but there is enough gravity in the subject matter to keep everything grounded in reality. The fact that many of our government officials are buffoons may make for some bloody good laughs on screen, but in real life it's a bloody shame. "In the Loop" doesn't let us forget that.

Rating: **** out of *****

("In the Loop" runs 106 minutes and is not rated. It is available for purchase on DVD and Blu Ray here through Amazon and for rental through Netflix.)

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