By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 8, 2009)
Here’s a revelation, in the midst of summer movie torpor: The political satire is not dead; it’s just been sort of resting …at least since Wag the Dog sped in and out of theaters in 1997. Armando Iannucci and co-writers Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Ian Martin and Tony Roche (much of the team responsible for the BBC series The Thick of It) have mined the headlines and produced a nugget of pure satirical gold with In the Loop. I daresay that it recalls the halcyon days of Terry Southern and Paddy Chayefsky, whose sharp, barb-tongued screenplays once ripped the body politic with savage aplomb.
When the British Minister for International Development (Tom Hollander) gets tongue-tied during a BBC news interview and blurts out that “War is unforeseeable” in response to a question about his stance on a possible U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, it stirs up a trans-Atlantic political shit storm, as hawks and doves on both sides of the pond scramble to spin his nebulous statement into an endorsement for their respective agendas.
When he later tries to backpedal by saying “Sometimes, to walk the road of peace, we have to…climb the mountains of conflict” it raises murderous ire from the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications (Peter Capaldi, as a classic Type-A prick) who tells the minister (among other colorful admonishments) that his awkward metaphor made him sound like some kind of “Nazi Julie Andrews”.
The gaffe-prone minister is given a chance to redeem his now precarious career status with a “fact finding” visit to D.C., under the watchful eye of Capaldi. Also along for the trip is the minister’s ambitious new advisor and chief handler (Chris Addison).
They are feted by the dovish Assistant Secretary of Diplomacy( Mimi Kennedy) who is desperately trying to keep him from the clutches of the hawkish Assistant Secretary of State (David Rasche) who is like an amalgam of Rumsfeld and Cheney, and of whom Kennedy observes that “…the voices in his head are now singing barbershop together.” Things get interesting when a war-weary general turned desk-bound Pentagon brass (James Gandolfini) joins the mix.
The filmmakers take aim at multiple targets, and hit the bull’s eye nearly every time with creatively honed insults delivered in deliciously profane pentameter by all members of the cast. Capaldi’s character in particular spouts some of the most uproariously clever lines I’ve heard in years. As for my personal favorite, I’d say that it’s a tossup between “I’m putting you on a probationary period…from today until the end of recorded time” or (b) “I will marshal all the media forces of darkness to hound you to an assisted suicide.”
Politics as usual, I suppose.