“War is unforseeable”
– Simon Foster, Secretary of State of International Development, speaking to BBC 4.
Simon Foster, a hapless and ineffectual government official, strays ‘from the line’ in a prime time media interview and accidentally asserts that the British government is considering military involvement in the Middle East. This leads to a chaotic chain of events as both pro and anti war proponents in the halls of British and American government scramble to manipulate Foster for their own agenda.
In The Loop is a fast-paced political satire that is deeply cynical with barbed jokes that come in at an impressive rate of knots. The cast is predominantly made up of political lightweights: assistants, secretaries, young temps and washed up generals. And yet their actions often have significant consequences for the whole country. A lot of the humour in the film comes from their desperation to feel important and have their input validated and how cruelly they are put back into their place. In one instance, Foster is excited to be invited to attend a meeting involving White House undersecretary Karen Clarke. He feels its his shot in the big leagues and looks forward to participating in the dialogue. Shortly afterwards he is told that he is there to serve as ‘human meat’ to pad out the room so it looks full to please the visiting American staff.
The film is like the antithesis of The West Wing. Almost all of the characters are self-serving, vulgar and inept. The camera work often employs the same corridor tracking shots as The West Wing only they are rough handheld shots. There is none of the structure or organisation seen in The West Wing: in one instance, the British emissaries to the White House stage an impromptu meeting so they can pretend to look busy when their American counterparts arrive to meet them.
This is a terrific ensemble performance. Peter Capaldi excels as the foul-mouthed Scottish politician Malcolm Tucker. He effortly strings together putdowns and verbally decimates his co-workers with language that would make Al Swearengen blush. Tom Hollander is also hugely entertaining as Simon Foster. He is perfect playing a man who is well and truly out of his depth, who craves importance and validation of his opinions, though he freely changes them to suit whoever he thinks might listen.
There is a diplomacy to the humour: it spares no one. The film riffs on the British government’s inferiority complex with their American counterparts, mocks the mundane concerns of Foster’s constituents in his hometown and ridicules the shallowness of the American politicians who constantly preen and arbitrarily like to have meetings with lots of people attending them.
Despite being a comedy, and a particularly cynical one at that, this film rather accurately surmizes a lot of the public perception of trans-Atlantic political relations in the past ten years. It delivers an exceptionally high level of laugh out loud moments and is one of the funniest films of the year.