First released in 2009, In The Loop is one of the most brilliant political satires ever made.
The film opens in London, as a slightly ridiculous man named Toby (Chris Addison) starts his first day as the special assistant to the Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander). And what a day to start! Both the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister are eager to invade the Middle East and, during an interview the previous night, Simon accidentally announced that war was “unforseeable.” This has led to people accidentally assuming that Simon is anti-war (Simon really doesn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other) but it also means that the Prime Minister’s compulsively profane assistant, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), is now running around the office and threatening people.
(I doubt that there’s any way that I can do justice to Capaldi’s performance here. You simply have to see him. He is a force of nature, a tornado of nonstop profanity and aggression.)
Not every government official in the U.S. is enthusiastic about going to war. Both Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her former lover, Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini) are opposed to the war. Karen’s assistant, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), has even written a paper that explains why a war in the Middle East could not be won. Karen hopes to use Simon as a spokesman to keep the British out of the war and, therefore, America as well.
(Toby, meanwhile, just wants to have sex with Liza.)
However, there are a few factors that complicate things. First off, Malcolm is determined to make sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants and if that means bullying and scaring everyone into supporting an unwinnable war, that’s exactly what he’s going to do. Secondly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State For Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche) is eager enough to start a war that he’s actually started a secret committee to find a way to get into the war. (The committee, of course, has been called the Committee For Future Planning.) Third, and perhaps most importantly, Simon is an idiot.
Along with being both a satire of American-British relations (my favorite moment comes when a random American tourist tells Malcolm to stop cursing in public) and the lead-up to the Iraq War, In The Loop is also a devastating look at how government works. In the Loop makes a good case that, for all the titles and the committee and the talk about doing what’s right, most government policy is the result of a combination of stupidity and needless aggression. As played by Capaldi, Malcolm has no ideology or core beliefs. He simply makes sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants.
And if that means going to war, then Malcolm will do whatever it takes to push Britain into war.
Director Armando Iannucci is probably best known for creating two political comedies, the Thick of It and Veep. And while I’ve never seen The Thick Of It, I absolutely love Veep. From what I’ve read, all three projects share the same fictional universe. (Capaldi’s Malcolm was the main character on The Thick Of It.)
Though, actually, I think it’s debatable just how fictional that universe is. Ultimately, In The Loop is probably one of the most plausible satires that I’ve ever seen.