In the Loop is a film stuffed to the gills with words – mean, pointy, slashing words, words used as weapons by the characters to taunt and belittle each other or as tools for self-aggrandisement. Often both. Vicious diatribes flow like streams of venom from the mouths of twitchy people who incessantly argue, bicker, bitch and berate each other.
Yeah, this film is about politics. Director Armando Iannucci plonks viewers in the brittle back rooms of power machinations and PR spin during a time in which Britain is preparing to enter a war in the Middle East, which we assume to be Iraq.
Rather than opting for realism the film exists in an unbelievably snarky alternate universe – it’s impossible to believe that behind the scenes politics could be this berserko-bitchy. Between the lines Iannucci seems to be making the point that nobody bar the privileged/damned really knows what transpires in the hallways of power so we might as well assume the circuit is populated by bitter, erudite, foul-mouthed, power-hunger people.
The word-slinging never lets up. In the Loop plays like an angry dog that relentlessly yaps at you from behind a fence, and if you’re feeling particularly delicate or in any way not in the mood you will only emerge from the situation badly defeated in a war of attrition you never wanted any part of.
There are no sympathetic characters in sight, though the despicably entertaining presence of media director Malcolm Tucker (played with apoplectic aplomb by Peter Capaldi, who eats up the screen, spits it out then grouses about the taste) proves early on that it’s very much a sliding scale. Tucker has a pathological lust for vicious put-downs; there is no other way to explain his, well, addiction.
We begin by watching Tucker whipped into gear as we see his reaction to a radio interview with a young cabinet minister, Simon Foster (Tom Hallender), in which Foster describes the impending war as “unforeseeable.” A minor gaffe if that – or so it seems to us mere mortals – but Tucker is livid and Foster exacerbates the situation by saying in a follow-up interview that Britain may have to “climb the mountain of conflict.” This makes Tucker’s face nigh-on explode with rage: “you sound like a Nazi Julie Andrews!” he screams.
The plot is more or less a collection of shouting matches, each powwow underlined with a sense of devilish absurdity. After the existence of a secret war committee – given the name “the future planning committee” – is accidently alluded to, the meeting room is unexpectedly flooded with curious attendees and, like every scene in the film, verbal jousting ensues. Here’s a snippet. It’s one of the rare moments that isn’t littered with expletives.
Karen: This is after all the war committee.
Linton: Ah, this is the future planning committee.
Karen: Well unofficially it is called the war committee.
Linton: Well Karen unofficially we can call anything whatever we want.
(Linton picks up glass of water from the table)
Linton: Unofficially this is a shoe. But it’s not Karen. It is a glass of water and this is the future planning committee.
George: Unofficially this appears to be bullsh*t.
Lacking from the film’s stinging screenplay (credited to a handful of writers) are distinct characters. The ‘different’ personalities blend into each other; almost everybody is wired to the same bitchy frequency. Like Diablo Cody’s screenplay for Juno, the characters feel more like different parts of the writer’s personality rather than real personalities themselves. This can be explained partly by the setting they exist in – that in this world, this kind of interminable bitchiness is par for the course.
But it is wickedly funny and acted with furious teeth-grinding pizzazz, as if lines of methamphetamine the size of hot dogs were mandatory in between takes. Few films are anything like it. One critic astutely dubbed it The Office meets Dr. Strangelove; throw in a twist of Hollowmen and a plethora of profanities and that’s about as good a comparison as you’re gonna get.
In the Loop’s voluminous dialogue masks the hollowness at the heart of it; this film is as empty and soul-less as the people who populate it. But in its own black-hearted way the film is damn near irresistible. So let the bitching begin.
In the Loop’s Australian theatrical release date: January 21, 2010.