- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

The director of “In the Loop,” Armando Iannucci, hopes you’ll find a little of your own office’s follies in his new comedy. The stakes might be different — “In the Loop” follows political staffs in Washington and London during the run-up to war with an unnamed country in the Middle East — but the situations are familiar to anyone bogged down in the daily grind of cubicle life.

“It’s interesting, because you don’t have to know your politics to get it,” Mr. Iannucci said in an interview after a screening last week. “It’s really about office politics apart from anything else. Private politics, bureaucracy: It’s about people who work at offices covering their tracks.”

“In the Loop” starts with British politician Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) telling BBC that a war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable,” throwing off the agenda of his prime minister and the president of the United States. Both see the conflict as very foreseeable and are, in fact, attempting to make it happen. Simon is quickly reproached — in the most profane manner imaginable — by the prime minister’s attack dog, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and told to walk back his ill-timed comments.

Meanwhile, various partisans in the State Department are angling to speed up or slow down the march to war. Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) is working with Lt. Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini) and her underling Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky) to throw a wrench into the works; Linton Barwick (David Rasche) is trying to keep his war committee secret and give the president the cover necessary to instigate the conflict.

The movie is not nearly as dry as all that might sound.

“It’s the comedy that drives it,” Mr. Iannucci says. “It isn’t a documentary. It’s sort of a privileged position because you’re not making a documentary, and comedy’s all about exaggeration, distortion, taking things to the absurd degree. … I want the audience to watch it not thinking that’s how it exactly happened, but that it must have happened something like this.”

The last “it” refers to the Iraq war. Although the country soon to be invaded goes unnamed, “In the Loop” obviously is intended to be a humorous look at just how the Iraq conflict came to be.

“At the time we were making it, there was this general [attitude of] ‘Aren’t people going to be a bit tired, there’ve been all these quite serious Iraq movies,’ and I thought ‘Well, no, because, see, we’re not making this about Iraq. We’re making this about politics. I wanted people to think there was something perennial about it, something that just won’t go away,” Mr. Iannucci says.

“In the Loop” provides one of the least romanticized depictions of life in Washington to come along in recent years: Instead of focusing on the grandeur of the big names in town, the movie looks at the lives of mid- and low-level functionaries who really make the town work. It also eschews the nobility of said functionaries in which programs such as “The West Wing” reveled; the characters who populate “In the Loop” are more worried about covering their rears than saving the world.

When they fail to sufficiently protect their posteriors, British attack dog Malcolm lets loose with blasts of hilarious, cutting profanity. Though portions of the film were improvised, Mr. Iannucci says Malcolm’s tirades were not.

“All that is scripted,” he explains. “You have to hit the beats absolutely perfectly, and it has to just spill out without any hesitation, so there’s no time to think about it. Peter Capaldi, who plays Malcolm, he spends a lot of his time just standing in the corner saying his lines again and again and again, almost so that his tongue and lips can memorize it, you know, just so he can shape the words as they spill out, kind of ingrained in his face there.”

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