In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

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MichaelB
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In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

#1 Post by MichaelB » Sun Apr 26, 2009 9:07 am

An excellent cautionary lesson in the dangers of overly high expectations, In The Loop is at least, at base, one of the most reliable belly-laugh generators I've seen in ages (in fact, I'm tempted to say I haven't heard an audience laughing out loud quite so often - and me with them - since I first caught Withnail & I during its opening week 21 years ago). There's hardly a scene that doesn't have a beautifully-crafted one-line zinger, and most have several. Also, Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker is now unquestionably one of the great British comedy villains, right up there with Harold Steptoe, Alf Garnett, Basil Fawlty and David Brent (here he is in full Rabelaisian flow for those who have yet to meet him - warning, very sweary!).

But I found it evaporated from the memory surprisingly quickly (I saw it last Wednesday), and I think that part of the problem is that there's little substance underneath the admittedly dazzling verbal surface. Or rather, despite apparently extensive research, the film has very little new to say about either the British or US political system. The British government is run by foul-mouthed press officers and special advisers? Government ministers are gaffe-prone buffoons who should never be allowed near a microphone? The "special relationship" between Britain and the US is closer to that of dog and lamp-post? Washington is staffed with scarily young Ivy League graduates? For all the brilliance of a line like "like Bugsy Malone, but with real guns", is this supposed to be some great revelation?

There's also virtually no plot worth speaking of - essentially, it's a series of scenes designed to engineer confrontations, and although many of these are side-splitting, they rarely develop into anything sustained. The film certainly isn't boring, as Tony Blair's former media guru Alastair Campbell (Tucker's suspected model) alleged, but it has no real drive either. We know upfront that all this sound and fury isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference to the ultimate geopolitical outcome, which is presumably why the film doesn't so much end as stop after a limp attempt at a climax.

Given that this is essentially a comedy, it's less relevant (but still worth noting) that the film barely needs the big screen - aesthetically, it's like a slightly less hyper extended episode of The Thick of It, the BBC sitcom which largely spawned it (although only two characters - Tucker and his even more extreme assistant Jamie - are ported directly across, it shares several actors playing more or less the same roles, and Tom Hollander makes a perfectly viable replacement for the understandably uncastable Chris Langham). Granted, it bucks the trend that big-screen spin-offs of British sitcoms are invariably unwatchable, but it also doesn't push the medium to any particular extent. You'd never know from this evidence that Iannucci has a strong claim to being Britain's most innovative television comedy producer of the last couple of decades, not least in form as well as content.

That said, I wasn't as disappointed as I was with the last British film that ended up being just one long rant to the already converted - In The Loop is infinitely funnier than How To Get Ahead In Advertising, and I'm already planning a repeat viewing just to catch the jokes that were drowned out by the audience still laughing at the previous ones. But I just wish Iannucci had done - or even attempted - the same for big-screen British comedy as he did for the small-screen equivalent in the 1990s. The Day Today is still a work of near-genius that stands up remarkably well 15 years on, not least because the news media now looks like a parody of it rather than the other way round. I somehow doubt that even those raving about the film now will still be holding it up as a classic come 2024.

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Fiery Angel
Joined: Sun Jan 11, 2009 1:59 pm

Re: In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

#2 Post by Fiery Angel » Sun Apr 26, 2009 9:14 am

MichaelB wrote:Also, Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker is now unquestionably one of the great British comedy villains
I just saw this at the Tribeca Fest, and I agree--Capaldi is so f+++ing funny that I still laugh when I think of his profanity-laced tirades. That shot of him with a blackberry in each ear is priceless.

That said, the Americans are much less funny than the Brits (except Gandolfini's turn as a general), and the whole thing does evaporate quickly from memory. But it's still a fun ride--too bad that reality has so far outstripped satire nowadays!

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Gropius
Joined: Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:47 pm

Re: In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

#3 Post by Gropius » Sun Apr 26, 2009 10:05 am

I thought Chris Langham was the best thing about the TV series, but he seems to have been airbrushed out of the equation since his unfortunate arrest.

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MichaelB
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Re: In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

#4 Post by MichaelB » Sun Apr 26, 2009 10:15 am

Gropius wrote:I thought Chris Langham was the best thing about the TV series, but he seems to have been airbrushed out of the equation since his unfortunate arrest.
Conviction, not just arrest. Apparently Iannucci kept in touch with him, and presumably intended to rehire him once he was acquitted... but he wasn't.

Sadly for Langham, he's probably unhireable now - certainly not by the currently ultra-cautious BBC, which produces The Thick of It. Can you imagine the field day the tabloids in general and the Daily Mail in particular would have with that?

But I liked the comment on this Guardian blog that said:
What would have been REALLY subversive and daring would have been to bring back Chris Langham as Hugh Abbot in a surprise return to government... which would have both satirised the desparate way Labour brings back previously discredited figures to try to cling to power - and in Langham himself, would have served as a telling comparison between someone who has been found guilty of a crime and served his punishment AND those who have been accused of crimes of a far greater magnitude (starting an illegal war, for example) but who will never even stand trial.

JonathanM
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Re: In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

#5 Post by JonathanM » Sun Apr 26, 2009 6:55 pm

According to Iannucci's twitter, Langham has now been replaced with a female actor who will play the next DoSAC minister.

I agree that the politics in the film are slight. The only real innovation is the idea of not referring to what the war was about or where exactly it was that the US and UK were going to invade. In the world of the film and the series, such details do not matter... what matters is the cut and thrust of politics. Who is up, who is down. Who has power. Who is an idiot. Who wins the battle to control the media and who loses. I think when you so perfectly capure what is wrong with so much of our political climate, I'm not sure you need to be original.

I also agree that the plot is slight. While the motivations of the doves are a lot clearer (this renders them more human simply because the other side have no apparent motivations other than vanity) there's never a real sense that they might win the day and block the war. Given this imbalance of power it is perhaps regrettable that Iannucci did not manage to really bring home the idea that the doves are a tragic case in contemporary politics. Nobody ever listens to them. He gets across that the doves are noble people but there's no tragedy there because ultimately they're just another bunch of politicians who champion one policy in the same way as they might champion another.

What In The Loop does really well is depict a view of politics that is entirely post-modern. There are no facts, there are no values, there are no ideologies, there's only power. Because of this, I'm slightly reluctant to agree that Tucker is a villain. Surely he's just better than everyone else? he's just as self-serving, just as venal, just as dishonest... it's just that he's a gifted politicians while the others are rubbish at it.

I think In The Loop is an important film because it provides something of an answer to something like the West Wing. While the West Wing had a real respect not only for the processes and institutions of government but also the people filling those institutions. The West Wing talks about politics with a voice fulled of hushed awe.

Charlie Wilson's war presented a step away from the West Wing's fetishisation of politics.

In The Loop is a much bigger and arguably much more realistic step in the same direction.

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flyonthewall2983
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Re: In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

#6 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sun Aug 04, 2013 8:26 pm

Now and forever, this will be remembered as the film where Doctor Who called Tony Soprano Fred Flintstone.

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