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In the Loop(2009)
The US President and UK Prime Minister fancy a war. But not everyone agrees that war is a good thing. The US General Miller doesn't think so and neither does the British Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster. But, after Simon accidentally backs military action on TV, he suddenly has a lot of friends in Washington, DC. If Simon can get in with the right DC people, if his entourage of one can sleep with the right intern, and if they can both stop the Prime Minister's chief spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker rigging the vote at the UN, they can halt the war. If they don't... well, they can always fire their Director of Communications Judy, who they never liked anyway and who's back home dealing with voters with blocked drains and a man who's angry about a collapsing wall.
For more about In the Loop and the In the Loop Blu-ray release, see In the Loop Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 14, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Peter Capaldi, James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, David Rasche, Gina McKee, Chris Addison
Director: Armando Iannucci
» See full cast & crew
In the Loop Blu-ray Review
Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love International Diplomacy
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 14, 2010
I was listening to an interview with George Lucas on NPR the other day—I swear, this does tie in to In the Loop—and the grand pooh-bah of Star Wars mentioned how he didn't think Dr. Strangelove's satire has aged particularly well, simply because our government, over the past forty years, has far surpassed the level of insanity seen in Stanley Kubrick's Cold War classic. While I respectfully disagree with the first part of his statement—I think the film's portrayal of bureaucratic incompetence is timeless—Lucas does make an interesting point. We need not look any further than the war in Iraq to see two-faced governmental ridiculousness at its best. The lead up to the war found the political spin machine chugging like an overloaded and unbalanced dryer, trying desperately to justify an invasion on false pretenses. With good versus evil sloganeering and blatant fear mongering from the White House, the around the clock politicking reached surreal new heights. Where's Peter Sellers when you need him? Now, there have been a number of films about the Iraq War in the past few years—most riding a liberal wave of collective denouncement—but until In the Loop, a deliriously sardonic British satire, none has so perfectly captured the absurdist farce that the average, well-informed, admittedly left-leaning citizen imagined to be happening behind the closed doors of State Department conferences and congressional sub-committees. It's bureaucracy gone mental.
It all starts with the slip of a tongue. British Internal Development Minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a preening and tactless fop, offhandedly remarks during a radio interview that war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable." Never mind that he doesn't actually know the difference between foreseeable and unforeseeable—or evitable and inevitable, or a host of other words— visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) takes his pronouncement at face value, and soon Simon unwittingly becomes a pawn in a chess game of international relations. Only, forget black and white, every piece in this chess set seems to be on its own team, making its own desperate power grab. Former Tony Soprano James Gandolfini is Lt. Gen. Miller, a pacified armchair commander who tallies up troop deployments on what looks to be a talking, Dora the Explorer calculator. David Rasche plays Linton Barwick, a kind of bearded, mild- mannered Donald Rumsfield who abhors cursing. ("I'm afraid you are nothing but a useless piece of S star-star T.") And a perfect British antithesis is Peter Capaldi as the exceedingly foul-mouthed Director of Communication Malcolm Tucker, who is charged with reigning in Simon Foster's rogue remarks. (When Simon tells a gaggle of reporters, "Sometimes to walk the road of peace, you have to climb the mountain of conflict," Malcolm replies, "You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews.")
As Malcolm, Peter Capaldi is given the film's most wickedly perverse dialogue, spewing acidic invectives and strings of bestial profanities that would make a convicted sex offender blush bright red. Almost gleefully spiteful, he signs off of phone conversations with "F—kity bye!" and tells one aide to…well, it's not quite fit to print, but let's just say it involves a jaunty bonnet, lubrication, and the reproductive organ of a male horse. It's far more funny than offensive, though, and his vulgarity-laced diatribes have a poetic cadence that must certainly sets some new cinematic high watermark for creative cursing. But it's not all F-bombs and horse penises. In the Loop uses precision-tooled language throughout that puts all but the most intelligently scripted American comedies to shame. Anglophiles familiar with British TV shows like Peepshow or The Thick of It—the government satire that In the Loop has been spun off of—will see nothing out of the ordinary with this exacting parlance, but those weaned on Step Brothers, Dumb and Dumber, and other puerile, largely physical comedies will have their ears opened—forcibly penetrated, really—by the film's diamond-edged use of the King's English. Just try to keep up.
It's a tough enough task just following the intentionally convoluted plot, which has pro-war and anti-war advocates on both sides of the pond trying to influence the outcome of a U.N. vote on Middle East intervention. The film's MacGuffin is a document, written by a low-level staffer (Anna Chlumsky), cumbersomely entitled Post War Planning: Parameters, Implications, and Possibilities —otherwise known as PWIP-PIP. ("What is that," says Linton Barwick, "a report on birdsong?") Appropriately, both the British and American governments get a proper skewering. When Simon Foster and his young, Frodo look-alike aide Toby (Chris Addison) come to Washington on a fact- finding mission, they're portrayed as inept and overawed, little British fish in a vast political pond. And back home, Simon has to deal with his bumbling rural constituents, including the always- welcome Steve Coogan as a man more concerned with the crumbling wall around his mother's garden than the imminent war. Likewise, the American government is comprised of cocksure politicos and almost impossibly young college grads holding high-powered offices. ("It's like Bugsy Malone, but with real guns.") After some fresh-faced kid briefs Malcolm, the vitriolic Brit launches into Linton Barwick, who is looking for British intelligence that his own agents haven't been able to supply. "Yeah," says Malcolm, "apparently your f—king master race of incredibly gifted toddlers can't get the job done between breastfeeds and playing with their Power Rangers." I wish for this review that I could just list out all of Malcolm's insidious insults verbatim, as it would make my job—conveying how absolutely hilarious In the Loop is— much easier.
Because really, In the Loop is one of the smartest, funniest films I've seen since I Heart Huckabees, and it's easily the best contemporary political satire since Wag the Dog, far outclassing similar offerings like Oliver Stone's decent-but-flawed W. The sprawling, Robert Altman-esque cast is uniformly brilliant, the script walks a tightrope of witty, extra taut dialogue, and the handheld camerawork effectively deglamorizes the hallowed halls of government. Director Armando Iannucci and his team of screenwriters—collaborators from The Thick of It—have crafted an astringent comedy that turns the global powerhouses of London and Washington into zoos for self-serving, middle-management buffoons. This may not be what international diplomacy is actually like—I hope not, anyway—but it certainly nails the feeling I get when I see a talking bobble-head on cable news spinning political decisions like a Harlem Globetrotter with a basketball.
In the Loop Blu-ray, Video Quality
Shot with handheld, high-definition video cameras, In the Loop has a distinctly unglamorous, almost "made for TV" aesthetic that fits well with the film's demolishing of the pomp and grandeur with which we normally perceive politics. Appropriateness aside, the source material does have that flat, mid-level video look, as opposed to the deeper, more filmic appearance obtained by the high-end Red One camera that was used to shoot Soderbergh's Che biopic, for example. The film's 1.85:1-framed, 1080p/AVC encode isn't the flashiest image you'll catch on Blu-ray this year, then, but it does seem to represent In the Loop's decidedly understated visual intentions. Clarity varies from scene to scene, but the overall look is slightly soft. This is most apparent in wider shots, where edges get a bit soggy. Close-ups, though, tend to be sharp and nicely resolved, showing off ample facial texture and other fine details, like the weft on Steve Coogan's knit cap. However, the downsides of shooting on video are readily apparent; highlights are frequently blown out, colors are somewhat wishy-washy, contrast lacks presence, and skin tones seem pasty at times. (Though perhaps British actors are just paler than their American counterparts.) You'll also notice a thin swarm of digital noise buzzing over the image, most obviously in darker parts of the frame, like the various politicians' black suits. Temper your expectations appropriately, however, and you'll be too caught up in the film's verbal repartee to be overly concerned with the picture quality.
In the Loop Blu-ray, Audio Quality
In the Loop makes the leap to Blu-ray with two audio offerings, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and an uncompressed PCM 2.0 stereo track, both of which are more than capable of handling the film's limited audio requirements. As you might expect, dialogue is the key ingredient of the film's sonic mix, and it comes through unfalteringly, though the occasional insanity of Robert Altman-esque overlapping lines can be overwhelming if you're not paying strict attention. Most of the action takes place up front and center, with the rear channels only engaged for some minor ambience, like Washington DC street sounds or the chatter of a crowded committee meeting. Very rarely, you'll hear a car whizzing from left to right or some other similarly subtle effect. Even the film's rock show—yes, senate aides and low-level staffers go out to headband to Cannibal Corpse— sounds rather tame. Music, in general, is only sparsely used in the film, and with only one or two exceptions it's incidental, like the pompous classical music that the director of diplomacy plays in his office. Still, everything sounds fine, if a little thin and uninvolving. No one is going to confuse In the Loop for Transformers 2 audio-wise, but the film's acerbic dialogue is clean and clear, and that's the important thing.
In the Loop Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (SD, 3:16)
This unfortunately short featurette only has time to give a quick synopsis of the film and offer some brief remarks from director Armando Iannucci and a few of the film's stars.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 28:09)
I rarely find deleted scenes worth watching—usually, they were cut for a reason—but this half- hour collection is filled with the kind of smart, funny stuff that makes up the film. And it makes sense; Iannucci's first cut ran some four and a half hours long. If you enjoyed the film, you'll want to play these scenes immediately afterward.
TV Spot (SD, 00:32)
Trailer (1080p, 2:22)
In the Loop Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I could heap superlative praise on the film until I'm red, white, and blue in the face, but it'll suffice to say that if you like smart comedies with crackling dialogue and an ample dose of political satire, In the Loop is a must-watch, must-own experience on Blu-ray. Pair this with The Hurt Locker and you'll have a gripping double feature that covers the Iraq War from all angles. Highly recommended.
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