DVD Review: In the Loop

What really goes on in Washington? From the outside, politics can seem like a dry affair, filled with white guys in suits and deals behind closed doors. In the Loop, which arrives Tuesday on DVD, is a raucous, behind-the-scenes satire on the not-so-glamorous inner workings of government.

In this fast-paced farce, America and the United Kingdom are on the cusp of going to war (ostensibly with Iraq) when Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a low-level British minister, makes an on-camera gaffe about his country’s intentions. He’s sent to make amends in the U.S. but when he arrives, he becomes a pawn in a web of intrigue among high-ranking officials with clashing agendas. His gaffe has also made him the punching bag of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a Scottish official with an axe to grind and an encyclopedic knowledge of insults.

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With brilliant writing, wacky characters and cinematography that feels more like Arrested Development than Wag the Dog, In the Loop makes the mechanics of politics feel tangible — if not entirely ridiculous. Underscoring the inanity of governmental goings-on are some of the components of each character’s lives that are brought to bear amid high-level discussions on position papers and secret war committees. In one scene, U.S. Asst. Secretary of State Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) abruptly leaves a meeting because her gums are bleeding. As she hustles her assistant, Liza (Anna Chlumsky) into the ladies room and stuffs her mouth with toilet paper, she’s still talking tactics, instructing her young charge through bloody wads of white tissue.

As Karen strategizes and Simon is batted around the Capitol halls, Simon’s assistant Toby Wright (Chris Addison) is caught up in his own mess with his American underling counterparts. While trying to keep his boss’s ego afloat (“Will I be the most important person there?” Simon asks him), Toby’s facing the consequences of a romantic encounter with Liza, who has no patience for his bumbling immaturity, particularly in the face of her own set of issues to navigate. These are the fine young minds of politics, learning to maintain the status quo. Amid well-educated banter and palpable ambition, the joke is on us.

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Throughout the characters’ interweaving maneuvers, In the Loop highlights the inanity of politics with absurd situations that are both riotous and unnerving. Director Armando Iannucci is one of the co-writers of the film, which hinges on invective-laden dialogue that moves at a swift clip. In the DVD edition, extended and deleted scenes only enhance this effect, showing off how many other fantastic soliloquies were written, and expanding some of the characters’ backstories.

Yet, embedded in the epithets and metaphorical pissing contests is the real toll that the political game takes on its players and, ultimately, the public. The film is fun (albeit not for the linguistically challenged) but it’s also not without its sense of humanity. Through a mix of wild antics and believable betrayals, Iannucci points out that it’s all fun and games until damage is done, and we all pay the price.

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