I may just have seen the film of the year. A contemporary satire that deserves comparison with Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, which starts hilarious, gets funnier, and more real, and even more uncomfortable until the laughs are intellectual but become inaudible, because the truth of what is happening on screen can only evoke anger. ‘In the Loop’, Armando Ianucci’s expansion of his TV show ‘The Thick of It’ is the first plausible, and the best English language film about the events surrounding the Iraq war.
Rather than engaging with the parts of the story with which we already think we’re familiar – the belligerent language of crusade, axis of evil, 48 hours to get out of the country, and so on – the film takes place behind the scenes, where spin doctors dominate Cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister is only ever evident as an invisible authority, and no one ever asks what’s right or wrong. The purpose of politics appears to be purely career advancement for people who can’t be bothered to think about anything; the threat of resignation is the only leverage potential held by people who seem incapable of making moral or ethical arguments about why invading a country that has not invaded you is, at the very least, a bad idea.
Of course we don’t know what exactly happened to propel legitimate grievance, ideology, anger, falsehood into mass killing…but the suggestion in ‘In the Loop’ is that no one who was involved really understands either. The movie shapes its narrative around the character of a minister with a troubled conscience (Tom Hollander) being manipulated by Peter Capaldi’s Downing Street communications director; wine and cheese soirees mingle with UN committee meetings as the physical backdrop for the process that ended, or still hasn’t ended, with hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, thousands of dead soldiers, and a generational mess that can only be accurately called a crime.
Ianucci and his co-writers know how to make people laugh; but their purpose is deadly serious, because after all the talking heads and late night commentary, all the books and blog posts, all the protest marches and campaigns, even after the election of a replacement to the cowboy President, we need a new language to make visible the nightmare of what actually happened. ‘In the Loop’ stands out from the crowd because it is, on the surface, a comedy, but honours the tradition of, along with the writings of Twain and Swift, films like Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ as works that have to attempt to be funny, because the truth is so terrible.
‘In the Loop’is a wake up call. I’ve only seen it once, and may be guilty therefore of over-statement, but for now I’ll bet that the venality of politics-as-game hasn’t been as sharply observed in the cinema since ‘Dr Strangelove’.