In the Loop


Written by Kieron Monks
06 Wednesday 06th April 2011

The massed ranks of Ianucci fans will have trouble staying calm at the prospect of his feature length debut. Expanding his hit series The Thick of It to the big screen, In the Loop has generated near flawless buzz, buoyed by rave write-ups at Sundance. Set around the build-up to war in the Middle East, Ianucci has a ball dissecting the political process.

Drawing on a base of established British talent, including Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell, laughs are a given. But the challenge for any TV show turned film is to provide enough new scope and invention to merit the crossover. To this effect, Ianucci internationalises his story, set mostly in America, as well as his cast that now includes tubby wise guy James Gandolfini.

Fans of Brass Eye, Alan Partridge et al. will be pleased the dialogue has not been watered down to court the American market. Typically British wit peppers a shotgun script capable of unleashing several laugh-out-loud moments in the same sentence. Despite the elevated stakes of countries on the brink of war, characters remain endearingly ditzy. No-one exemplifies this better than 'meat puppet' Tom Hollander's foreign minister, who makes Hugh Grant look like David Attenborough (calm and authoritative).

This is a film more concerned with its environment than the story, revelling in the childish political systems both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps the director overplays this point, with senior officials at the White House played by teenagers. But this is broad satire rather than gritty realism, hopefully British ministers don't vandalise each other's offices with such regularity either. In the Loop is not aiming for the austere authority of The West Wing - this is essentially a sitcom with the world's most powerful people playing the leads.

Practically everyone operates on the far edge of sanity, with a generous dash of evil thrown in. Even Chris Addison's everyman hero is riddled with flaws, cheating on his girlfriend and lying incessantly. Yet his sleaze is portrayed as key to political success in a system based on spin and slander. Of his infidelity with an American aide he audaciously claims: "I think on a subconscious level it may have been an attempt to prevent the war". Such weaselling is par for the course and nobody is presented as above it.

Perhaps the film is too reliant on individual displays. This works fine when everyone sparks off each other and the scenes are kept quick and tight. At other times the lack of a substantial, film-sized plot is more noticeable, with too many comedians clamouring for attention. A wheeled-on Steve Coogan is wasted, grumbling his way through a forgettable role as a constituent worried about his wall.

Still, dark insight does occasionally penetrate. The White House hawks are a chilling bunch, covering up every shred of truth and using live grenades as paperweights. The ‘special' relationship is also given a good stabbing, with British politicians grateful even for abuse from their American superiors. The notable exception is Peter Capaldi's spin doctor, who treats everyone with similar contempt, but even he is shown to be vulnerable in the big leagues. Generally the film assumes we share its disdain for government, using this as a basis for more absurd and hysterical attacks than most satires would dare.

A promising debut from Britain's best comedy writer. Viewers would be advised to ignore the lingering feel of TV and enjoy wallowing in corruption and hilarity. A superb cast chewing over a deliciously tart script more than compensate for a slight lack of depth. Dr. Strangelove in an age of bureaucracy. Laugh, then cry.

In the Loop is on general release in the UK from April 17.

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