Ed. Note: With a stage full of candidates shouting about their White House aspirations Wednesday night, UK contributor Matt Clough has his eye on politics too. Specifically, a look back at the three-ring circus that is Armando Ianucci’s scathing British 2009 satire, In The Loop.
When watching Hollywood films, it’s very easy to be seduced by what they show as politics. It’s little wonder that the old cliché about wanting to grow up to be President is hackneyed given the message that Hollywood promotes. Which is essentially that everything ever having to do with politics has been complete, unmitigated awesomeness.
From epic closeups of the President trying to determine whether or not to nuke the hell out of Russia/China/wherever he fancies, to heroes pushing corrupt senators off the White House roof after foiling bomb plots, it fair to say that little Timmy’s dream of becoming President is justified.
It’s therefore quite understandable that a British film about British politics (which, I assure you, rarely features the Prime Minister’s daughter being kidnapped) is a pretty tough sell to an American audience. We don’t really have guys selling weapons to questionable foreign regimes; it’s more likely to be a politician using taxpayer money to pay for an ornamental fish pond. In the Loop takes the quaint notions that American audiences probably have about British politics and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to go f*ck themselves.
Such a vulgar term may seem crude but it’s appropriate when describing In the Loop. Armando Ianucci, director of the film and creator of the series that followed, The Thick of It, claims that one of the key reasons an American adaptation of the program failed was the removal of profanity. It’s difficult to really do In The Loop‘s vulgarity justice; it makes Scorsese films look like Pixar. When the characters aren’t swearing, they’re usually insulting or threatening each other. A typical exchange: “I’m gonna lock you in a flotation tank and pump it with sewage until you drown.”
Set in 2003, during the lead-up to the actions in Iraq, In the Loop satirizes the inner workings of both Downing Street and Pennsylvania Avenue as the two governments become embroiled in a pseudo-absurdist spin battle. Whilst biting satire might not suggest the same paradigms of good and evil found in the more action-oriented American approach to political films, there’s certainly a heroes vs. villains theme at work here — albeit with essentially all of the characters falling into the latter category.
In the Loop showcases the various personalities found in the political realm: The sleazy, double-crossers who will do anything to get ahead, the spineless incompetents (“I’m on the verge of taking a stand”) who make a mess of everything at every opportunity, and those who try to clear up the mess. It’s fascinating to watch the dynamics between the characters at work. Behind the relentless humor is the unnerving, sobering thought that this is likely how the system actually works. Those in the public eye, such as MP Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), are repeatedly undermined by those both above and below, and are often little more than “meat puppets,” as General Miller (James Gandolfini) dubs them.
Meanwhile, those completely removed from the public eye, such as Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), an “enforcer” for the Prime Minister, are the ones with the real power, essentially bullying anyone who falls out of line, regardless of whether the action is accidental. There’s also the disconcerting view that many of the characters have little interest in those they supposedly represent, and are solely focused on personal gain. Like Chad (Zach Woods), who brings a squash racquet to work every day in the vain hope that his boss will ask him to play. Which you just know he won’t.