"In The Loop" is hands down the funniest movie I've seen all year and also the smartest. A political satire set in London and Washington, it manages to skewer so many targets that, by the end, nothing is left standing. The film spins off the BBC series "The Thick of It," which was also directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, and which, like "In the Loop," features Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister's frenetically foul-mouthed communications director. (Tucker is reputedly based on former Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief strategizer, Alastair Campbell, who coined the phrase "the people's princess" for Princess Diana). "The Thick of It" was confined to the messy precincts of London politics. "In the Loop" enlarges the madness to ground zero – the White House.
The lunacy begins when Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the minister for international development, mistakenly goes off script during a radio interview in which he is asked about the possibility of a US war in the Middle East. He calls the possibility "unforeseen," which riles the prime minister's people and gladdens Washington's war hawks. Damage control only results in further damage, as Simon is dispatched to D.C. to clear the air and succeeds only in fogging it up.
Not since the heyday of Preston Sturges has there been such whiplash dialogue bouncing off the walls of the asylum. Iannucci and his co-writers Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, and Tony Roche encouraged the cast to improvise and the zingers come thick and fast. There's clearly a visceral thrill for the actors in delivering lines this good. As in the best satires, the characters they play are both universal and sui generis. Simon, the fusty bureaucrat, is matched by his opposite, Malcolm, whose Type A personality should really be upgraded to Triple A. His Washington counterparts, a dovish but bullish Pentagon general (James Gandolfini) and a smiling cobra State Dept. bigwig (David Rasche), throw their weight around, secure in the knowledge that Britain needs America much more than America needs Britain. (Among many other things, "In the Loop" is a scathing slam on the pretense of US-British amity.)
The rest of the marvelous cast includes Chris Addison as Simon's young adviser, Mimi Kennedy as US assistant secretary for diplomacy (diplomacy – there's a laugh), Anna Chlumsky as the assistant's assistant, Gina McKee as Simon's director of communications (communications – there's another laugh), and Steve Coogan as a loony citizen from Simon's constituency of Southampton. There isn't an actor in this film, not even a walk on, who isn't perfection.
Although "In the Loop" does not have a pretentious bone in its body, allow me my pretensions when I say that, in its own screw-loose way, this is one of the best antiwar comedies in ages (since "Wag the Dog," in fact). The run-up to the war here is not-so-loosely based on the Iraq situation. Despite all the hectoring and bad-mouthing and spittle, not once do any of these bureaucrats mention the human cost in lives. Politics isn't just deadly funny in "In the Loop," it's also deadly. Grade: A