Saturday, June 25, 2016

In the Loop

Written at the time of the film's release.

"You Might Have Heard Him Say it, But He Didn't Say it, and That's a Fact!"
Oh, Tell me "Who are YOU?"

They say you don't want to see government at work just as much as you don't want to see sausage being made. The implication is that both involve grinders and a certain amount of evisceration. And the dropping of blood, metaphorically, and in some cases, literally.

In the Loop, the smart, funny movie version of the British comedy "In the Thick of It" manages to bludgeon home that point, but also draw parallels with the most drop-dead dysfunctional of office settings. In the Loop employs the same "caught on the fly" filming and editing techniques of "The Office" and they're played out by a cracker-jack group of actors who give the impression that they're ad-libbing the whole thing (led by a startlingly brilliant performance by Scotts actor Peter Capaldi*). Only it's "The Office" with a vindictive murderous glee and what, if it had gone through the Ratings Board,** would be described as "pervasive language."

It is also an episode of "Yes, Minister" on meth-amphetamines set in an abatoir, where the civil servants—the guys who never get voted out of office—run the show, and the show is the pantomime of a representative government working on the people's behalf. The lobbying people. The people in power. Those people. You know. There's enough invective in this movie to launch a thousand Uni-bombers, and most of it is hilarious—the kind of hilarity you feel guilty about laughing at. Especially if you didn't vote (not that it would do you much good, ultimately).
In this expansion of the series, the British Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) burbles through an innocuous press interview that an anticipated war conducted jointly by the U.S. and Britain is "unforseeable" and the Prime Minister's Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) begins running interference ("I'm sweating spinal fluid here!") for Foster, the PM, and American functionaries creating damage control by causing as much destruction as possible (not too unlikely a scenario). That he does it by some of the most creative uses of the Anglo-Saxon tongue makes it hilarious, cruising through the labyrinths of power filled with ass-covering lackeys like a shark through a school of puffer-guppiesbattering through so many non-functionaries "on defense" by being as offensive as possible.
This is not your father's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or even "The West Wing"—both those political dramas assume that civil servants are servants, rather than being self-serving, doing their jobs for the public good, not seeing it as a public nuisance. Those films assume the core of public service as "Love Thy Neighbor," rather than the reality of all-knowing governments—but only in the biblical sense.

* Capaldi may not be familiar to American audiences, but you've seen him before—deny it all you want, but you have—maybe in Local Hero (at the time of the writing Capaldi has appeared in a "Doctor Who" episode but he hadn't yet become "the twelth and existing Doctor" in that long-running series). In fact, he won an Oscar for writing and directing the very odd and very funny Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life. Also in the cast are James Gandolfini—as good as you'd expect him to be—Mimi Kennedy, the always entertaining David Rasche, and...anybody remember Anna Chlumsky..."My Girl?"

** It didn't, and so it arrives at theaters with the "NR" rating, the "nolo contendre" of the MPAA system.

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