In the Loop (IFC Films, NR)

film_in-the-loop_sm.jpgIn the Loop is not only the funniest movie of this year so far, but also the best comedy I’ve seen in the past several years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s often said that Washington is like high school-all showing off and petty rivalries and infinite gradations of hierarchy that no one with a real life cares about-except that in Washington, the kids dress better and have the power to declare war on other countries.

That’s the basic view of In the Loop, which is not only the funniest movie of this year so far, but also the best comedy I’ve seen in the past several years. It’s adapted from the British television program The Thick of It and gives equal time to our brethren across the Atlantic who are no less status-obsessed and have much more impressive collections of expletives which they don’t hesitate to deploy. As with the much-beloved Slap Shot, if all the bad language were cut out of In the Loop, the resulting film would be about half an hour long.

The story begins in Great Britain when a stumble-mouth government minister (Simon Foster, played by Tom Hollander) says on the radio that war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable." Now what does that mean? I’m not sure, and neither is anyone else, so they all interpret it to suit their own purposes. Spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, in a real star turn) calls Simon in for a tongue-lashing because saying anything the press can use limits Malcolm’s ability to control the message. He also cancels all of Simon’s future television appearances in the same spirit that an angry father might ground his teenage son and take away the car keys.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pond, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy (Mimi Kennedy; and that really is the title given in the chyron) latches on to Simon’s unfortunate choice of phrase. Before you know it, the Brits fly to Washington and there’s a secret Future Planning Committee that is really the War Committee. Except it’s not so secret after Simon’s aide leaks the news to a college buddy working for CNN, and a briefing paper by Karen’s aide Liza (Anna Chlumsky), which makes the case against war, also gets leaked to the press.

And there are couplings and betrayals and dirty tricks as the pace accelerates leading up to a vote before the United Nations. Meanwhile, Simon is distracted by mundane problems in his constituency of Northampton, including a malfunctioning septic tank and a crumbling stone wall. Handheld camera work and the use of chyrons to introduce the characters give this movie the feel of a newscast or documentary. Those who wish to identify real-world counterparts to the fictional characters will have no problem doing so, and even without that information the story rings true.

The illusion of reality is aided by the fact that many of the actors will be unfamiliar to American audiences; standout performances are delivered by, among others, Chris Addison, David Rasche, and Olivia Poulet and Gina McKee (in a performance reminiscent of Nancy Culp as Miss Hathaway, and I mean that in the nicest way). More familiar will be James Gandolfini (who plays one of the few likeable characters, an American general opposed to the war) and Steve Coogan (as the disgruntled Northampton constituent whose mother’s greenhouse is threatened by Simon’s crumbling stone wall). All in all, if you enjoy biting satire and are not frightened by characters using words you probably wouldn’t want to say in front of your mother, In the Loop offers some of the best entertainment this summer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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