Political satire at it’s worst is a painful attempt at backstreet politicking, more intent on drawing votes than laughs from its audience. At its best it can be a sublime parody of the world we live in, making us all feel that bizarre combination of unease at the state of the world and comfort in the knowledge that other people see it too. In The Loop, the first feature film from British comedy genius Armando Ianucci, falls emphatically into the latter categorically.
Ianucci has long been destined for big things. His TV series talents have been exhibited in classic English idiot Alan Partridge, and his political astuteness on show in The Day Today and more recently The Thick of It, fans of which will recognise a lot of elements in In The Loop. Observant, in-your-face, but never insipid, Ianucci weaves together his edgy comedy in a way that somehow manages to be intelligent and accessible, absurd and yet piercingly relevant. These are not skills to be taken lightly.
In this film these skills are applied to the story of bumbling British Cabinet Minister Simon Foster and his know-nothing blagger of an assistant Toby. In a radio interview Simon is somehow guided into commenting on the possibility of war in the Middle East. Unthinkingly he makes a comment that diverges from party lines and has consequences so far reaching that he is eventually sucked into major political circles in the United States, where forces for and against war each try to harness him for their own cause. Meanwhile Party enforcer Malcolm Tucker busts his balls trying to sort the mistakes as they pile up, and one of Simon’s Nottinghamshire constituents (played superbly by the inimitable Steve Coogan) wreaks political havoc by publicising a collapsing wall at the offices of the local council.
There is so much in here that it’s almost impossible to cover it all. The most salient work of comic genius, though, has to be Malcolm Tucker. Actor Peter Capaldi’s abrasive, violent Scotsman screams his way through the two-hour runtime with an imaginative array of expletives that are infinitely quotable. Included in his repertoire are ‘I know you don’t like swearing, so let me put it this way, you’re an f-star-star-CUNT!’ and various ways of expressing the insertion of objects into orifices. The crowning moment of this comic capering comes when a character even more aggressive turns up and smashes a politician’s fax machine while firing of an unrepeatable series of obscenities. Outstanding.
Tom Hollander’s witless minister Simon Foster is equally enjoyable, and Hollander himself has proven once more that he is an actor well worth his salt. From the moment he becomes embroiled in the controversy, through to a scene where he attempts to masturbate to documentary about sharks, and up to the baffling conclusion where all he manages to do is calmly stand and eat mints as NATO falls to pieces around him, the character epitomises all that is ridiculous in today’s politics, and it’s truly a marvel to behold.
Beyond these comic creations, there is a goldmine of astute political references. Sneakily named government committees, awkward alliances, brown-nosing interns and affairs adorn the plot as stag-heads might adorn the wall of a particularly adept hunter. Not a moment passes in this film without a piece of satirical brilliance. If this sounds too heavy, too relevant, please note that there is enough surrealism to avoid this being a preachy commentary about the system. Need convincing? Well, in the middle of a big political confrontation, someone’s teeth start to bleed. Surreal enough?
This is a comedy that you can’t afford to miss. Avoid the latest Apatow/Rogen template trash and give this a go, I promise you will not be disappointed.