Monday, 20 April 2009

Movie Review: In the Loop (Contains Spoilers)

You should go and see Armando Iannucci's new film, In the Loop. It may not quite be up there with Dr Strangelove but the film is good political satire all the same, with some great lines and sharp teeth. The question is, who gets bitten? As Charlotte Gore says:

“In the Loop . . . delivers on the comedy - but you’re left wondering whether, by laughing, the joke is actually on you.”

The obvious targets of this satire are the people who got Britain into the disaster that was the Iraq war. Yet liberals and others who opposed the war shouldn’t expect any kind of morality tale from this film. The bad guys, in the form of John Bolton-esque Linton Barwick and the PM’s bullying thug of a press secretary “Malcolm Tucker” get their war in the end, by doctoring documents, covering up committees and manipulating the media. For this reason, the film acquires a near-tragic edge.
I agree with James Graham that, towards the end of the film, Linton dumps all over Tucker but, to me, the latter is neither “emasculated” or “broken”. He is too well established as a dominant character by this stage. Even after he has been outwitted, Tucker gets his way, on his own British turf at least, by making cold calculations, getting his tactics together swiftly and executing them with ruthless efficiency. All the things he does best.

I have a couple of suggestions as to why In the Loop, satirical and very funny though it is, may put ants in a few pants. One concerns the allusions to tragic political events that were wrapped up with the Iraq war [click here].

Just as significantly, the butt of the joke is what some people call the British political class. Tucker prevails because he knows what he wants and he goes for it, by any means necessary. We shudder accordingly. But compare Tucker to his colleagues in government. The film’s international development minister, Simon Foster, has good intentions, in a vague and hapless sort of way. Foster is also quite clueless and his shallow, inexperienced special adviser offers almost nothing useful. The department’s head of comms is detached, ambivalent and not a little shifty. All three are unguided by moral compasses or firm beliefs. They switch allegiances, make up their principles as they go along and think of themselves and their own careers before anything else.
The satire bites by showing the British characters, Tucker included, as craving the approval and affection of the US administration; and worse still, they don’t even seem to realise this, let alone question it. So we get a satire on power and how it works, not a tale of morality.

In the Loop’s Americans may be, at various times, comical, ingenuous, arrogant and weird, but they usually give the impression of knowing where they stand and how they think. In their own ruthless ways, both the “hawks” (for all their vileness) and the “doves” are true believers and behave accordingly. This seems natural in many ways, because the true power in the film resides in Washington DC and what happens there really counts. OK, the dove-ish General Miller / Tony Soprano doesn’t resign in the end, reasoning - if that’s the word - that if there is going to be a war, he should be around to make sure that it’s fought properly. (This produces one of the film’s best lines.) We laugh and we cringe at the same time, but then Miller is a satirical version of a professional soldier. Just like Malcolm Tucker.


Anonymous said...

When I said that Tucker was a broken figure at the end, that wasn't to deny that he'd "won" - just that, by doing so, he had been put in his place. He might be a masterful political manipulator, but by the end it is clear that he is little more than a pawn. That fact clearly disturbs him, as someone who clearly takes so much pride in his alpha male status, more than it would most other people.

He said, she said said...

Tucker is an interesting character. I think I agree with James' comment that he is put in his place. While he fancies himself the alpha male in the British government you can see he has no actual power to stop Simon Foster saying the things he does for most of the film. He *thinks* he is the alpha but alas he tuwnrs out to be another pawn in a shambles where everyone plays a part, and everyone is at fault.

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