Read Dana Stevens' review of In the Loop.
Television comedies-turned-movies have a spotty track record: For every South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, there are a few Bewitched s and Flintstones es. It's certainly not a genre associated with rapturous critical reception, but that's exactly what the scathing political satire In the Loop—a spinoff of the cult BBC series The Thick of It— has enjoyed since its Sundance premiere last January. Set amid an Anglo-American scrum of government officials, lackeys, and PR handlers on the eve of an undermotivated war in the Middle East, In the Loop is a painfully comic film à clef on the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq—and one that creates a new, perhaps impassable standard for creative deployment of the word fuck.
For most stateside viewers, the movie also provides a belated introduction to its director, Armando Iannucci, the prolific writer-producer who has been a mainstay of radio and TV comedy in the United Kingdom for two decades. In addition to creating and co-writing The Thick of It, Iannucci was one of the creators of the '90s fake-news classic The Day Today, a proto-Daily Show and a forerunner of Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G Show. Iannucci also co-created Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge: a talk-show parody and sitcom, respectively, that turned Steve Coogan's blundering sportscaster from The Day Today into one of the immortal fools of British popular culture. The Scottish-born Iannucci is virtually unknown here (and just short of a household name back home), but thanks to YouTube and multiregion DVD players, U.S. viewers can catch up with one of the most influential comedy minds in the English-speaking world.
Or make that the English-swearing world: The Thick of It and In the Loop are symphonies of virtuosic profanity (the BBC's sign-language service has had to create five new signs to accommodate The Thick of It's blue neologisms), much of it supplied by menacing communications director Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a man who can render the commonplace "Would you like to step into my office?" as "Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off." The relentless verbal assault is sensationally funny, but it's also part and parcel of Iannucci's long-standing fascination with the debasement of language and debate in politics and news media. "I'm interested in the abuse of argument," Iannucci told the Independent in 2006. In that light, Tucker's decidedly abusive command of simile ("He's as useless as a marzipan dildo"), hyperbole ("I'd love to stop and chat but I'd rather have type 2 diabetes"), and paraprosdokian ("Go and buy a goat a whole village can fuck") can be seen as a means to keep his cognitive muscles limber for his next feat of dizzying spin—as when hapless British MP Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) inconveniently claims in a radio interview that war is "unforeseeable." "You may have heard him say it," Tucker tells the press, "but he never said it, and that is a fact."
This Orwell-meets-"Who's on First?" rhetorical style was one that Iannucci first honed on the news satire The Day Today (1994). Long before Stephen Colbert popularized "truthiness," The Day Today was coining the term factgasm and screening an info-graphic titled "Facts x Importance = News." In one priceless segment, anchor Chris Morris (who developed the show with Iannucci from their radio program, On the Hour) turns from moderator into agitator, twisting what should be a dry exchange about a trade agreement into a declaration of war in "the upper cataracts of the Australia-Hong Kong border," whereupon the newsroom instantly transforms: new lighting, rejiggered theme music, and a field correspondent shouting, "People here are literally bursting with war!" Nearly a decade before the careful stage-management of the 2003 Iraq campaign, Iannucci and Morris had imagined armed conflict as arousing infotainment, manufactured out of bellicose impulse.