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In the Loop

Wag the Dog meets The Office in this pungent satire about how wars get started.

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Party politics: Mimi Kennedy and James Gandolfini
  • Party politics: Mimi Kennedy and James Gandolfini

Some day the historians will figure out exactly who got us into the current war in Iraq and why. 

Oh, OK, we know who and why: Uncle Rummy and Cousin Dick told a few fibs, and Little Georgie didn't get enough of Daddy's attention during those vacations in Kennebunkport. But I mean really who, and really why? Like: Really really.

In the meantime, just embrace the whos and whys that Scottish-born director Armando Iannucci exposes with In the Loop, a blistering parody of (I've always loved this phrase) the run-up to war. Set in London and Washington, D.C., it crisscrosses the ocean as key players double-cross each other, all in the name of -- well, basically, their careers. Bureaucrats, politicians, aides, generals -- it really doesn't matter. They all trade in words, words, words that signify nothing, and they're all just a little mad sometimes. 

It begins in London, where Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a.k.a. "Simon Fluster," a member of Parliament and a minister in the current government, gives a radio interview during which he discusses the desperate need to cure diarrhea in countries around the world. He frames the issue as a "war," and so he's asked by his BBC interrogator (accent on the third syllable) about the prospect of a U.S. war in the Middle East. 

He should have just said "that's not my department," but instead, as any ambitious career politician might, he seizes the opportunity to state his "personal opinion" and says that war is "unforeseeable." 

This begins a cascade of events complicated by the foggy language of diplomacy and a press ravenous for a story. It also sets off Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the ingloriously foul-mouthed director of communications for the government. Tucker rips Simon a new one ("In the words of the late great Nat King Fucking Cole: 'Unforeseeable'") and sets out to make things right by ripping everyone else in his warpath a new one as well.

Meanwhile, in Washington, it's pretty much the same scenario. A well-meaning young aide (Anna Chlumsky) has written a paper that cites more evidence against a war than for it. That pleases her distracted boss (Mimi Kennedy), a career bureaucrat with bleeding teeth, as well as a career general (James Gandolfini), now a pacifist, who says in opposition to any new war, "You never want to go again once you've seen it. It's like France."

In the Loop jets back and forth as everyone scrambles for political cover and conducts the most serious of government business with one eye on history and the other on their résumés. There's a "secret" Future Planning Committee whose meeting suddenly becomes the hottest ticket in Washington. Some people have unofficially dubbed it the War Committee, but that won't do for Linton Barwick (David Rasche), a double-talking State Department official who holds up a glass of water and says, "Unofficially, this is a shoe."

As the contentious "Planning" committee meeting dissolves into organized chaos, Simon attends a required day of meetings back home with his constituents. It's a curious British ritual in which the elected MP meets one-on-one with people, across a table, to listen to their petty concerns. In Simon's case it's a crumbling wall in a man's garden that threatens his Mum, who can tend her plants near the wall only with a watering can. His awkward apathy lands him in the papers, caricatured as a walrus.

There's plenty to cogitate in Iannucci's fast-paced mockumentary, filmed entirely with hand-held cameras. But before you do, just slouch back and enjoy it. It's Wag the Dog meets The Office, the sort of well-timed comedy that the British do well, and the American actors go toe to toe with their counterparts. 

The script, co-written by Iannucci and three others -- and partly improvised by the actors -- is tartly funny, with honest laughs in almost every scene, and only a little silliness and a few cheap shots. When Malcolm has to take a meeting with a baby-faced aide, he eviscerates the lad, who's nine days from his 23rd birthday, and who drolly tells Malcolm, "If it makes you feel any better, we can wait."

But the most penetrating observation comes from Linton, the spinmeister who seems to want a war because it will continue to give him something to do. "We have all the facts we need," he says. "We don't need any more facts. In the land of Truth, the man with one fact is the king." He's the one who wants to change the minutes of a hearing to record "what was intended to be said," and not what people just happened to say. 

The movie's title is a little bit ironic, I suppose: Yes, these characters are in the loop, and yes, the things they say and do get us into this unspecified war. But you also suspect they're just puppets for the people we never see in the movie: Tony Blair, George Bush and the Beelzebub twins of the Bush administration. For as much as we'd like to believe that mid-level bureaucrats could get us into something like this, the truth is that Blair and Bush were the deciders, so the blood is on their hands. 

Still, in the clutch, when people could bravely resign to protest a war that shouldn't take place, they naturally find a way to rationalize being cowards. "Is the really brave thing doing what you don't believe?" Simon asks, trying not to torpedo his career. No, of course it's not. But that's a fact nobody wants to hear.

 

Starts Fri., Sept. 11. Regent Square

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