‘In the Loop’, an outstanding film version of the brilliant BBC political spin comedy ‘The Thick of it’, has hit the big screens and hit them in style. It’s a stunning satire on the run-up to a war that’s spun into happening (yes, highly unlikely), and is a combination of hilarious writing, brilliant\ comic acting and deft direction that makes for an compelling movie.
Major credit must go to director Armando Iannucci. His script is superb throughout; his adaptation of the tv series seamless and his skill behind the camera compliments his talents as one of the foremost comic writers in Britain today. This is an excellent piece of filmmaking. An what a script and plot. A hapless Junior Minister (Tom Hollander) kicks against a monstrous foul-mouthed PR flack-cum-Rasputin figure (Malcolm Tucker played by Peter Capaldi) who seeks to control him and events in the run up to a US-led war. Minister Foster seeks independent advice from his hard-pressed but ultimately idealistic flaks. Throw in US government in-fighting, drunken sex between US and British former student lovebirds, a profane but profound American General, a demented constituent obsessed with his garden wall, lots of cursing and you have a gem of a film.
Tucker is awesome in his use of profanities – and Capaldi plays him with a vigour that leaves you exhausted with laughter after watching him. Alistair Campbell, who dismissed the movie as slight, must have been stung severely by this homage to his aggression. Tucker has no doubt about the limits to his power i.e. very few. If there’s any justice, Capaldi should have a BAFTA for this performance – but as Tucker, he’d probably ask the Academy to ‘Stick that fucking statue up your fucking arse you fucking twat’.
Gina McKee and Chris Addison, playing the much put-upon ministerial advisers, are perfect foils for Tucker’s insanity. McKee has an easy charm and attractiveness as an actor and is terrific and likeable as Judy Malloy, a career civil service press officer. Addison shines as the gormless tyro public relations hack. Both convey the madness, euphoria, highs and lows of being caught in a political whirlwind.
There’s some great character acting in ‘In the Loop’. James Gandolfini is razor sharp as Lt General George Miller – a Tony Soprano meets Colin Powell amalgam trying to stop what seems like a headlong rush into war. Steve Coogan is wonderful as a disgruntled constituent stalking the principled but ultimately powerless Minister Foster (played with considerable aplomb by Tom Hollander). Foster learns the truism of the maxim that all politics, is in the end, local.
Running gags abound: the barely post-pubescent White House and State Department officials running empires straight out from college (a swipe a Paul Bremer’s kids that ran Iraq). Tucker and his foul-mouthed, even scarier apprentice Jamie constantly try to out-do each other in their political thuggery and highly inventive use if profanity. Both make for very funny motifs.
Garlands must go to the smaller players too, notably, but not exclusively, Enzo Cilenti, Paul Higgins, Liza Weld, Mimi Kennedy.and Michael Rodgers. The ensemble cast is terrific.
‘In the Loop’ is simply the funniest satirical movie in the last twenty years, skewering the ‘Special Relationship’, excoriating New Labour and leaving the cinemagoer in no doubt that while war isn’t funny at all, the absurdities of war’s justification can make for hilarious viewing.
What makes a good political movie? Is it a thriller with politics as a backdrop or a didactic film with a political message at its heart or is it a a scathing satire? Do we focus on the credibility of the actors, the pacing of the plot, the guiding hand of the director or a combination of everything that makes for a zeitgeist-defining work? In no particular ranking order, let’s look at some of the best of the genre…
‘All the President’s Men’: Perhaps the most famous and certainly one of the most quoted political thrillers of all time. It gave us some of the cinema’s most memorable phrases that investigative journalists have been adhering to since its release: ‘Follow the Money’ has inspired a generation of muck-rakers. Pakula’s direction keeps the viewer on edge throughout; do we believe‘Deepthroat’s assertion that Woodward’s and Bernstein’s lives are at stake? Is democracy itself under threat? Can Nixon be stopped?
‘The Candidate’: Redford shines again as he plays a candidate sculpted and moulded by his handlers. This film considers the nature of running for office and the compromises involved in doing so. At what stage does the candidate ‘sell out’? Is this a necessary part of politics or driven by special interests and media concerns? Redford is perfect as the idealist who gets sucked into the world of realpolitik. ‘Frost/Nixon’: Watergate’s revisited in this engaging and thoughtful recreation of the titanic television encounter. Michael Sheen shines as the oily, ephemeral but ultimately worthy Frost while Langella’s Nixon is a superb as the self-pitying old crook. Rising star meets falling giant in a fascinating study of corruption and accountability. Nixon was always hung out to dry on television and Sheen’s Frost gets the most out of the medium in eventually skewering Tricky Dicky.
‘Che Part 1 and 2’: This two-parter is unapologetic in its hagiography and is a compelling portrait on one of the most charismatic revolutionaries of the 20th Century. Part One spotlights the incredible levels of inequality and state brutality in Cuba in the 1950’s and looks at the motivation of Guevara and the other bourgeois revolutionaries. Part Two concerns his guerrilla campaign in Bolivia and early demise. An interesting, passionately argued presentation which raises interminable and possibly unanswerable questions on the nature of the ‘just war’ and when one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Benicio del Toro has rarely been better.
‘Wag the Dog’ – Dustin Hoffman excels as the sleazy but likeable spin-doctor getting a US President out of domestic trouble by faking a war. Trouble was, this mirrored events in 1998 all-too closely when Bill Clinton was ‘getting some’ in the White House Oval Office and attacking the Serbs to protect the Kossovans. Art mirrored Reality which mirrored Art – a top-notch exposition on ‘spin’ and the ‘wages of spin’.
‘Bob Roberts’ – A film ahead of its time, this movie tracked and courted the rise of the populist right wing in the US. Candidate Roberts assumes the mantle of counter-cultural rebel but he’s really ‘rebelling’ against social democracy, equality, and ultimately freedom. An entertaining polemic, Tim Robbins portrays the role of the anti-Dylan with verve and panache. A seminal movie for anyone working for the Democrats along the lines of getting to know your enemy.
‘Dr Strangelove’: Kubrick’s biting satire on Armageddon is both terrifying and hilarious. From Slim Pickens riding the bomb to Peter Sellers begging for no fighting in the War Room, this movie constantly satirises the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine. Sellers plays a panoply of parts and uses his comic inventiveness for all its glorious worth. Still remarkably fresh, Strangelove exposes how we could end the human race through our pride, ignorance and foolishness.