In The Loop: Brits prove to be the masters of mockumentary and profanity-laced hilarity

In The Loop is basically a film version of the BBC television show The Thick of It. I’m sure any British readers out there already realize this, and conversely, I’m sure practically no American readers know this. If the television series is anywhere near the quality of this film, I’ll be a happy man once I track it down.

In The Loop is a scathingly, brilliantly hilarious political satire that pretty much never stops with its one-liners and vitriolic arguments.

Storytelling: 4/5

It’s pretty obvious early on — or from any of the trailers — that In The Loop is poking fun at the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. There are people on both sides that want to go to war and vice versa, and they are all entwined in a web of confusion and absurdity.

The events of the movie are kickstarted when British minister Simon Foster (played by Tom Hollander) says that war is “unforeseeable” in a radio interview, and the media runs with it, as Simon is berated and emasculated by his superior Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Simon doesn’t quite realize the storm he’s created until he is confronted in the street by reporters and provides yet another soundbite that is blasted over the airwaves. It just seems that every time he opens his mouth, things only get worse.

Starting on the day of the “unforeseeable” quote, Toby Wright (Chris Addison) becomes Simon’s assistant throughout the entire affair, shuttling between meetings in both the UK and America. He manages to do damage of his own, accidentally leaking information to the press and also destroying his romantic relationship back home in probably the most embarrassing fashion imaginable. Simon and Toby make for an immensely amusing disaster of a team.

Meanwhile, the two Americans they work with, the US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her assistant Liza (Anna Chlumsky), seem on the ball and mostly treat the two Brits as the bumbling — if well-intentioned — idiots they are. They work together with Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini) to try to stop the seemingly unstoppable march to war. They are mostly up against another Assistant Sec. of State, Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who is naturally the most unlikeable character in the film. I think you can guess how it turns out.

The star of the film is undoubtedly Capaldi, who seems to be ripping someone apart in every other scene. Every time he opens his mouth, a geyser of expletives shoots out, hitting whoever happens to be around square in the face. You may think *he* would be the most unlikeable character, but it’s hard to hate someone who is capable of effortlessly eviscerating anyone within shouting distance. There’s a reason why the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay — and that reason is that insults have never been piled on top of each other so well outside of a David Mamet film.

Probably the only complaints I can think of are the subplot that has Steve Coogan complaining to Simon about a wall that is about to fall and possibly crush his mom and perhaps that the movie just kinda of ends. But the former is still pretty funny and the latter — well, I wasn’t really watching the film for a twist or tidy, meaningful ending. I think it works fine and shows that politics just go on. And go on as dysfunctional as they’ve always been.

Video: 3/5

In The Loop is a textbook example of a solid transfer. There’s definitely quite a bit of film grain — possibly an effect of the primarily claustrophobic indoor settings — but it fits the aesthetic of the film well. I mention the indoor setting because the few establishing outdoor shots seem to look a tad better. There’s still pretty of detail and it looks fairly sharp most of the time, but the picture quality is just not impressive. Yet the 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer more than gets the job done for a film shot in such a documentary style.

Audio:3/5

This film is all about words. Words spoken over words or in response to other words or both. So the fact that you’re able to distinctly tell what everyone is saying at every moment is more than enough. The only problem you might have is keeping up, especially if you’re an American like me.

There is one scene at a rock bar that gives your sound system at least a short workout, and the lossless 5.1 DTS Master Audio track does its job of being appropriately loud, while still allowing you to understand the dialogue. Other than that, you’re mostly treated to the sounds of an office or a large meeting, which pop up on the surround channels when need be.

Package: 2/5

Those two stars are purely for the half-hour of deleted scenes. The only other thing even worth mentioning is a 3-minute BS behind-the-scenes featurette that aired on IFC. Ok, there’s a trailer and TV spot too. That’s it. I really thought I had gotten a “rental” version of the Blu-ray, but upon double-checking on the internet, there is indeed no commentary or substantial extra features other than the deleted scenes. But the scenes that were left on the cutting floor are so good that they deserve some recognition.

There is effectively no difference between the quality and entertainment value of the actual film and the deleted scenes; I have to believe these scenes were cut out only to keep the running time down. They are just as quotable, and I might have laughed even more per minute, as they are presented in such rapid-fire, random sequence that it feels like a particularly humorous and clever episode of Robot Chicken.

Bias:

As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, The Thick of It is the British TV series that spawned In The Loop. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t speak on how it would affect my enjoyment of the film. Perhaps a Brit who is a huge fan of the series would think the film too long compared to an television episode. I’m just guessing here.

I think the film is obviously anti-war, but I don’t think it’s particularly sanctimonious about it. It has Gandolfini’s character of the “retired” General make a few comments about war and soldiers, and Rasche’s performance as the hawkish Assistant Sec. of State is perfectly smug. Perhaps the film is only against going to war with faulty intelligence. So even if you think the Iraq War is the best thing ever, you’ll still enjoy this film.

Basically, in order to NOT enjoy this film, you need to not have a grasp of the English language.

I really did not see many comedies this past year outside of The Hangover, and In The Loop blew that somewhat overrated movie out of the water. I cannot speak for the rest of the comedy crop, but I can’t imagine any of them topped the pure brilliance of this script.

Verdict: 4/5 – “BUY”

 

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