Planting Seeds Of War Renders Bumper Crop Of Satire

'In The Loop' *** ( 3 Stars)

August 14, 2009|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,michael.sragow@baltsun.com

In the beginning of "In the Loop" is the word, and the word is "unforeseeable."

This British movie, set in London, Northampton and Washington, is an incredibly busy, erratically brilliant satire about the devious ways democratic governments can ramp up toward war. Its funniest joke comes right at the start and doesn't lose its snap after a dozen repetitions.

A minor British official, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), "Minister for International Development," hastens a trans-Atlantic rush to action simply by telling a radio talk-show host that an American war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable." It gets him far more coverage and clout than anything he's said about the problem of dysentery in developing countries.

The importance of language lies at the heart of "In the Loop." Every form of conversational language except spontaneous poetry - jargon, banter, flirtation, argument, insult, mimicry, and profanity (especially profanity) - receives a 106-minute workout. (Even if you hear one conversation at a time, you're conscious of hundreds floating around.) You get the feeling that half of the film's bureaucrats and diplomats would psychologically eviscerate a colleague just to keep in shape.

They're less flesh-and-blood human beings than runaway mouthpieces for attitudes ranging from the ruthless pragmatism of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the prime minister's director of communications, to the inchoate careerism of Simon's political adviser, Toby Wright (Chris Addison).

The resulting movie might lack heft, but it's a rousing political Punch-and-Judy show. The director, Armando Iannucci, plays crack the whip with a cast of dozens who coil out over the screen. They include Mimi Kennedy as a dedicated, peace-loving U.S. undersecretary for diplomacy, Anna Chlumsky as her aide (under the pretty smile, she's still out for No. 1), and James Gandolfini as a dove-ish general still loyal to the military.

Iannucci derives unexpected comedy as well as derisive laughter from the gap between his characters' ambitions and ideals and their pride and pettiness. And he uses an amazing and unrecognizable Steve Coogan to clear the air. Coogan shows up as an obstinate Northampton bloke complaining that the wall of Simon's constituency office is about to crumble onto his mother's greenhouse. He conveys a blend of grit and lunacy with deadpan glee. He brings a welcome whiff of Monty Python to a tale of snakes in the grass.

MPAA rating: Unrated but contains profane language and some sexuality

Running time: 106 minutes

Starring Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker), Chris Addison (Toby Wright), Tom Hollander (Simon Foster), Mimi Kennedy (Karen Clark), Anna Chlumsky (Liza Weld) and James Gandolfini (General Miller).

An IFC Films release. Directed by Armando Iannucci.

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