'In the Loop'

Hilarious film about behind-the-scenes Brit and U.S. political fights just before the Iraq war.

Reprising the corrosive satire of their BBC skein “The Thick of It” on a grander scale, helmer Armando Iannucci and his co-scribes hatch a feverish, sometimes hilarious fiction about behind-the-scenes Brit and U.S. political skirmishes just before the Iraq invasion in “In the Loop.” The pic will delight fans of acerbic contempo Brit humor, though sans offshore marquee names (“Soprano” James Gandolfini aside) it might struggle to lure auds theatrically. And the constant flow of colorful profanity means this won’t be hitting PBS anytime soon.

Some fumbling radio interview comments by minister of international development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) sends the P.M.’s director of communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) into a (typical) apoplectic rage.

The minister’s vague statement “war is unforeseeable” hits a wrong note just when 10 Downing Street is trying to downplay the seeming imminence of an Iraq invasion on one hand, and its ready support for America in that endeavor on the other. Suddenly this timorous politico is thrust onto the national stage, his every word analyzed for hints of which way the wind blows. Also suffering the indiscriminate brunt of Malcolm’s expletive-riddled critiques is Simon’s own coolly managerial communications director Judy (Gina McKee). She gets a rival — and Simon an ally — in his newly arrived political adviser Toby (Chris Addison).

When Simon gets quoted everywhere for continuing to say the ambiguously wrong thing, he is packed off with Toby to Washington, D.C. There, waspish assistant secretary for diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) views him as a possible tool in her attempt to slow the war machine.

Once in D.C., the alliances start to add up, from dovish Liza (Anna Chlumsky), who also happens to be a former college flame of Toby’s; to Pentagon bigwig Gen. Miller (Gandolfini), an old flame of Karen’s; to hawkish State Dept. honcho Linton Barwick (David Rasche).While the jittery hand-held cam at first over-resembles an “Office” episode, the spiraling complications, back-stabbings and absurdities soon lend “Loop” its own distinctive flavor.

Peripheral characters adding to the manic fun include Zach Woods’ venomously ambitious State Dept. flunky, and Steve Coogan as a pain-in-the-butt constituent. Capaldi is an undeniable standout as white-hot-tempered Malcolm, though arguably he gets to be too much of a good thing, especially once Paul Higgins turns up as an identically raging Scotsman.

Screenplay full of quotable quips and the direction occasionally approach smartass overload. And, truth be told, the ultimate point isn’t all so deep. But intelligent political satire this expertly acted is nothing to sneeze at; “W.” could have used a little more of its hurtling astringency.

Tech/design package is aces in a quasi-verite mode.

In the Loop

U.K.

Production

An Optimum release of a BBC Films and U.K. Film Council production in association with Aramid Entertainment. (International sales: Protagonist Pictures, London.) Produced by Kevin Loader, Adam Tandy. Executive producers, Christine Langan, David M. Thompson, Paula Jalfon, Simon Fawcett.

Crew

Camera (color, Sony HD), Jaimie Cairney; editors, Billy Sneddon, Ant Boys ; music, Adem Ilhan, Elysian Quartet; production designer, Cristina Casali; art director, Nick Dent; set decorator, Clare Keyte; costume designer, Ros Little; sound (Dolby Digital), Bob Newton; sound editor, Tim Alban; assistant director, Charlie Leech. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 19, 2009. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, Paul Higgins, Mimi Kennedy, Alex MacQueen, Olivia Poulet, David Rasche, Steve Coogan, Zach Woods, Enzo Cilenti, Johnny Pemberton, Joanna Scanlan.

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