In The Loop (15)

Directed by Armando Iannucci
Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche and Armando Iannucci
On general release from 17th April 2009

“Shut it, Love Actually, or I’ll hole punch your face.” This is just one of the hilariously horrible threats which spurts from the mouth of government enforcer Malcolm Tucker in Armando Iannucci’s big screen debut. But as the echoes of the insults die away, one very serious point remains in the mind: we are laughing at the advanced decay of what they laughingly call ‘democracy’.

Tucker (played by the always amazing Peter Capaldi) reprises his Alistair Campbell-alike role from BBC Two’s The Thick Of It, manically stalking the corridors of power, as civil servants cower or frantically scurry like frightened dormice. The unseen UK Prime Minister and US President want a war against some unspecified country (for which read Iraq), but face some opposition from within their respective regimes.
On the British side, the weak-willed Minister for International Development (Tom Hollander) doesn’t like the idea of wars too much, and is uncomfortable with toeing Tucker’s line that it is “neither foreseeable nor unforeseeable”. He is bounced into making a series of excruciating press statements, as he weighs his ‘principles’ on the one hand against his career prospects on the other (shades of Clare Short). Over the Pond, elements within the military and State Department believe they might be getting overstretched, and anyway, as James Gandolfini’s bizarre peace-loving general puts it: “…once you’ve been there, you never want to go back unless you absolutely have to. It’s like France.”
Capaldi’s masterful performance aside, this is a top quality production, and there is a belly laugh per minute. The cast is top notch, drawn from some of the finest – though sometimes unsung – comedy performers and writers currently working in Britain and the USA. And the brutality of the political life portrayed is undoubtedly realistic (Martin Sixsmith – a former BBC journalist and Director of Communications for Tony Blair – worked as an advisor on the film).
However, certain elements don’t ring true, or at least need fleshing out. This may well be how it feels to be a civil service pawn on the Grand Chessboard, but what motivates the kings and queens? If we look at what has emerged about the run-up to the Iraq invasion, it is quite clear that the country’s huge oil reserves were a significant incentive.

With its focus on Tucker/Campbell’s Machiavellian tactics, In The Loop tends to present war as just one of those things that happens when events spin out of control, and the world’s population as therefore being entirely at the mercy of these loopy careerist bureaucrats and politicians (“all the forces of darkness” as Tucker calls them). But there are billions of people who do not benefit from wars between nations, and those that do only have the power we give them. If there is hope amidst all this chaos and the scary hollowness of my laughter, it lies in those unnamed masses.

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