If one word describes In the Loop, Armando Iannucci’s 2009 political satire, it’s almost certainly “scathing”. If two, that and “unforgiving”. Going further would only yield an entire novella of words meant to convey intense discontent or outright anger, and indeed the only declarative statement I can make about the film in the positive is that it’s great. Not simply as in “very good”, either; In the Loop represents that rare film that can be called an instant masterpiece without sounding disingenuous. It’s a masterclass of bold daring, a movie bent on overtly lashing out at a moment in history fresh in the minds of every person who might watch it (and those who most likely won’t), and lambasting each and every player involved.
That central point in time, by the way, happens to be just shy of when the war in Iraq began. It logically follows, then, that the characters Iannucci introduces serve as analogues for political and military figures who had a hand in the events leading toward the commencement of that controversial conflict. Inevitably, this just makes In the Loop a more divisive picture. Armchair patriots and ideological zealots of either flavor may find the movie grossly offensive or latch onto it as definitive proof that all along, that whole mess really was the other guys’ fault. Maybe I can’t fault the former reaction, but the latter reading completely misses the point Iannucci is making. Everyone here– save for maybe one or two characters caught in the film’s partisan crossfire– ends up skewered; no one comes out ahead.
And that’s natural, because everyone’s guilty of something. Whether they’re bullying their subordinates, conniving and conspiring, outright lying, or just acting like incompetent milquetoasts on a monumental, world-altering level, In the Loop‘s cast of characters each have a part to play in the film’s ultimate conclusion. Is it a spoiler to note that that conclusion happens to be the start of the Iraq War? The film may not be portraying reality to the letter– the heightened dialogue, replete with pejoratives, expletives, and over-the-top threats, certainly argues that point all on its own– but it certainly exists in a very real timeline, so we have a strong idea of where In the Loop must end from the very first act.
Which is exactly why Iannucci’s film reads like a declaration of judgment and a morality play as much as it does a comedy. In fact, as funny as In the Loop is– and it is very funny– it’s more political than humorous by far. Maybe that sounds somewhat banal, since the film by its nature mines its laughter from politics, but that means that In the Loop can’t be apolitical. That narrows the scope of its appeal, perhaps, but that’s fine– the film still remains a loud, pointed political statement about a very contentious moment in world history and the divisive morass of contemporary politics.
Political intentions aside, though, In the Loop is also very much an actor’s movie. Iannucci’s fly-on-the-wall approach to filmmaking requires nothing short of greatness from his cast– he’s presenting footage in the most matter of fact manner possible, leaving it to his performers to fill out each scene. (Which isn’t to say Iannucci doesn’t make In the Loop look good; it’s just that his aesthetic is all about directorial invisibility.) They all seem quite as fired up about the subject matter as Iannucci himself; “anger” isn’t the right word, since many of these characters (notably Malcolm Tucker, Peter Capaldi’s Director of Communications for the Prime Minister) exist in a perpetual state of disgruntlement. Rather, they each seem in-tune with that aforementioned discontent– they’re tapped in to the outrage driving the film forward.
So should we all be. In the Loop paints a fictionalized narrative of how the Iraq War began, true, but it’s hard to imagine that the truth is all that far off from what’s presented here. Yet honesty matters little if the material isn’t well-crafted, so it’s to the credit of Iannucci and his ensemble of writers and actors that In the Loop brims over with such a wealth of exceptional elements– from the plot, to the one-liners and punchlines, to the acting– that it’s impossible to decide which of these represents the best of what the film has to offer. Ultimately, it is the sum of all those parts– a brave, smart, relentless piece of political commentary and parody.