You Can’t Fight In Here! This is the War Room!
I don’t give a damn about politics. I manage to keep a rudimentary knowledge of the major events, but mostly, I don’t know anything about the players and the policies. I’m gloriously ignorant and kind of proud of that fact. Also, I have the barest recollection of most BBC Programming, vaguely aware of the pedigree of such programs as “Peep Show” and “I’m Alan Partridge” and “Torchwood.” I have never been abroad, I haven’t even traveled to Canada or Mexico. I had never even heard of Armando Iannucci or his program “The Thick of It,” so I wasn’t aware of any of the source material for the film In the Loop, which makes me the perfect candidate for review. Because I didn’t know what the fuck was going on half the time and unable to appreciate most of the jokes, I loved every goddamn minute of it.
I prefer British politics to American if only for the sheer spectacle. One of my college roommates was the kind of guy who’d get drunk in front of C-SPAN 3, so we would often be regaled with the broadcasts of the House of Commons. With the bellowing and chanting and pounding, it was more like a monster truck rally with powder-wig mullets. Again, I didn’t understand much of the politics of what was going on, but I was massively entertained. Such was the case with In the Loop. While on a base level, I got the gist of the going-ons. I couldn’t comprehend the intricacies of policy or what the actual characters political positions were. With the lyrical wit being dallied about, it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t work nearly as well if it were an entirely American cast — in fact, it was called Wag the Dog and it pretty well didn’t — because most of the charm comes from the slurs being slung. It’s just not the same hearing someone called “cock” or “cunt” without that gorgeous lilt.
Simon Foster (Tom Hollander, The Pirates of the Caribbean), a British politician, accidentally starts an uproar when he misspeaks on a radio program, implying that war between the U.S. and The Middle East would be “unforeseeable.” It’s a bizarrely small gaff, which spirals out of control as he tries to verbally tap dance his way free. Suddenly, an empty platitude becomes a rally cry for the more militant among the Americans: “Climbing the Mountain of Conflict.” Which prompts one character to spout, “You sound like a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews!” The movie is deliciously profane, with curse words and insults being hurled around like explosions in a Michael Bay Christmas Special. A cursory glance at the curriculum vitae of the four or five authors who worked on this project lets you know it would be brilliant, but the fact that you can appreciate it without really understanding the meat of the humor proves just how brilliant it is. It’s awe-inspiring, hitting on four different levels: puns, broad scatological humor, slurs and nicknames, and dry wit. It’s infinitely quotable, most of it as exchanges of the whipcrack dialogue.
The cast makes the film, and while I recognized a ton of folks, there was probably a smorgasbord of European delights that meant nothing to me. But that was the beauty of the film. It was a particularly deft bit of ensemble work, where Steve Coogan and James Gandolfini were able to work on the same comedic level. It’s probably droll to draw comparisons to “The Office” (the American version), but the voyeuristic cinema verite style camera work, coupled with every character getting an equal moment to shine really strikes a perfect balance. Peter Capaldi as the venom-spewing Malcolm Tucker blew my mind. He spoke in a shit-thick brogue, where he wasn’t so much spouting the words as choking on them and coughing them in the faces of the other characters. Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche — yes, Sledge-Fucking-Hammer — were marvelous as two opposing State Department Heads. I liked Rasche’s Linton Barlwick as a blowhard conservative warmonger and Kennedy’s Karen Clarke was a vicious liberal know-it-all without ever falling into the trappings most political films instantly spring. It’s more stupid and shrewd without necessarily picking sides. James Gandolfini was incredibly complex as Lt. General George Miller, a peace-wishing General who’s not afraid to throw down. He’s against the war effort, but he’s also a really hardnosed threatening bully. He hasn’t displayed this much comic talent since he was getting throw down stairs in Get Shorty. Nobody can be easily pigeonholed; Iannucci refuses to let it be that easy. Because the characters have depth, the actors battle with knives out.
Chris Addison plays Toby Wright, who easily could have turned out to be a standard milquetoast assistant, but instead, turns out to be this sort of endearing badass nerd. Paul Higgins kills me as the hooligan thug for Malcolm Turner, somehow managing to out shout his foul-mouthed tirades. A fax machine gets its ass kicked even harder than in Office Space, like Scarface chain-sawing a Staples cashier for forgetting to say hello to his little discount. Steve Coogan plays a blue-collar constituent, and it’s face-slapping wicked. He’s not out of control, yet he’s still able to be over the top. It’s a fantastically nuanced performance, and one that I’d like to see more comedic actors try out. Yet, I’m saving all my praise for Anna Chlumsky as Liza Weld, a Washington intern who penned a controversial paper. I’ll admit, it was a little jarring hearing Vada Sultenfuss spouting the f-bomb, but this was such a wise choice for the young actress. She took herself out of the limelight, doing mostly indie work here and there for the past few years, and now leaps back into the fray with a role that manages to erase all vestige of her childhood actressin’ without totally disrespecting it. She’s effervescent, and still with a spark of mean streak in her. She plays intelligent and adorable with equal aplomb, and I hope this gets her more work.
I realize I’m recommending this movie without getting into details, sort of like telling you to visit a restaurant by naming all the types of dishes on the menu. Yeah, they serve steak, but is it any good? The film does kind of meander in the second hour, but it just lists from dazzling dialogue exchange to dazzling dialogue exchange like a drunk at an Algonquin Round Table cocktail party. I was laughing at shit I totally did not understand. So, if you’re into smart humor, British humor, or political humor, or some combination of the three, please catch In The Loop. It’s rare to find an indie comedy worth touting, and this is certainly one. Also, it’s an IFC Film, so the chances of it coming to a TV near you are great. Plus, you really want to hear a Scottsman shout the phrase “ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock.” After all, you read Pajiba.
Brian Prisco is a bitter little man stomping sour grapes into fine whine in the valleys of North Hollywood. He’s a screenwriter who’s never been professionally produced, an actor who’s never joined a guild, and a director who made one bad film. He’s one waiter apron away from a cliche, and he’s available for children’s parties. You can tell him how much you hate him at priscogospel at hotmail dot com.