Writer and director Armando Iannucci expands on the world of his satirical political sit-com The Thick of It for In The Loop, a razor sharp, deeply cynical farce about the symbiotic relationship between Britain and the US in the run up to the second war in Iraq.The film opens as the Prime Minister’s foul-mouthed Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) lambastes the new Minister of International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) for saying in an interview that “war is unforeseeable”. Tucker is a ferocious government attack-dog, more-or-less based on Prime Minister Tony Blair’s notoriously ruthless press secretary, Alastair Campbell, who is reviled and revered in Whitehall for his loathsome tongue. Nobody messes with him twice, except the ambitious Foster, who blithely repeats his opinionated error at a meeting with US officials. There he finds new allies in the scatterbrained State Department maven Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and US General Miller (James Gandolfini), busy fighting their own pro-war faction, led by gimlet-eyed neo-con Linton Barwick (David Rasche).
Looking for a justification for war, Barwick seizes on another stupid statement Foster makes during a kerbside interview where he urges Britain to “climb the mountain of conflict.” Tucker is incensed at Foster, not so much for speaking out of turn, but for having an opinion in the first place, so insists that he accompany him to Washington for a series of high-level meetings at the UN that will determine whether or not the warring factions will be given the green light for war. As a palate-cleansing sorbet, Iannucci offers us a minor domestic crisis as Foster battles an angry constituent (Steve Coogan) in his Northampton district over the status of a crumbling garden wall.
The inspired script, co-written by Iannucci and the writing team of Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell (from the similarly acid Peep Show) balances rich, meaty satire with a masterclass in swearing. Apparently, Iannucci employs a specialist writer, known only as The Swear Doctor, whose only function is to go through the script, adding new and eye-wateringly vivid obscenities from the blackest depths of his imagination. Tucker takes the lion's share of these tirades, spewing language so salty at times it seems to crystallize mid-air.
These frequent and sustained outbursts of base language are shocking, malignant and extraordinarily funny. In The Loop is one of the few times this year when I have laughed out loud at a movie, but the film is far more than a litany of foul expressions; Iannucci and his cast revel in the rich, arcane language of politics and the meaningful ambiguity of governmental double-speak, tying each other up in Gordian knots of nonsense.
Iannucci hasn’t done anything with the larger, more expansive canvas of cinema to distinguish the film from television, maintaining the same hand-held, fly-on-the-wall aesthetic and blabbermouth dialogue. The same small-screen methods apply to the episodic story, which lands us in right the middle of these unpleasant characters without much in the way of explanation then asks us to keep up with a steadily trotting narrative, occasionally diverting the flow with one of a series of bubbling sub-plots that marry the passion of politics to the thrill of clandestine sex.
In the post-Bush era, some of his jibes land with less force than they might have done a year ago but in the end, the films lack of timeliness doesn’t detract from the joy in how cleverly Iannucci re-imagines the “dodgy dossier” scandal as a black farce, played out by idiots in a world of savage absurdity.