In The Loop Review

The Film

Cock up or conspiracy? That's the basic question at the heart of all number of disasters in our world. Is there a governing intelligence behind what happens to us or is everyone at the mercy of things they unintentionally cause? Whatever the case, the important thing for those in power is to ensure that they are seen as responsible when things go right and that they can blame circumstances beyond their control when it doesn't.

The modern world has made a science out of sugaring the pill when things go wrong. The PR gurus and press offices work overtime to recast the unforeseen consequences - the wrong headed follies and the outright madness of their political betters. Yet, even this group of people, the very ones charged with putting mistakes right, are fallible and their methods far from savoury, or often effective. This is what Armando Iannucci's The Thick Of It has made hay with, and here, in its big screen variant, it aims for the ultimate in real world incompetent fixes - the "evidence" that justified going to war with Iraq.

What the improvisational style and reality TV like approach drives home, is how those that we assume are most powerful are often scrabbling about for impact and direction themselves. Here a government minister finds himself as a political football on both sides of the pond with pro and anti war factions trying to use him for their own ends. Alongside those who should wield power are the even more naive whose work is rehashed for a dodgy dossier to justify the very thing they never wanted, who try to prove their worth to their political masters but end up seeming as impotent and incompetent.
Amongst the incompetence and the phoney battles, are the ones who tidy it all up and manage the events into a destiny that they have already decided. The ones who bully, blackmail, and destroy in order to have their way, and the ones for whom the end is achieved through ruthless, often evil improvisation. Malcolm Tucker and his guard dog Jamie exist to scare those who may develop integrity or ability into a paralysed state that only they can free them from. These men guarantee the end of the story and their authority is one of delegated fear.

And this is because in the Thick of It and this, its big screen brother, government is a nonsense only achievable by forcing solution despite facts, people, or ethics. These are solutions whose purpose matters less than whether they are seen to work. This cynicism and the world infested by it is undoubtedly a funny, often hilarious, place, but a place not so fictional as to be easily denied. The parallels to the real world are legion and Iannucci seems to decide that the push to a disastrous ill thought out war was first cock up, and then came the conspiracy as the mistakes were glossed over, protected, and relaunched as the shining truth of 24 hour news.

The big screen allows for the big topic and the inclusion of some decent bankable stars like Gandolfini and David Rasche from the American side. The script has been written with some in built explanation of transatlantic differences, but basically both countries have the same political process of a blur of meaningless meetings, annoying service to the public, and endless pointless plotting. The regulars from the TV series are nearly all found similar roles within this story and Chris Addison remains the chief focus as the newbie political adviser to Tom Hollander's completely hopeless minister. The only casting that remains completely the same is that of Malcolm and Jamie and this is as it should be. Peter Capaldi and Paul Higgins bark, snarl and insult with perfect timing and indecent ferocity - they are perfect whatever the size of the screen.

Is it a feature film though? Isn't this, to borrow some of the verbal nonsense from the WMD debacle, simply a different delivery system for the same satirical weapon, and does that really matter anyway? Well, all that really matters is that In The Loop is funny and successfully uncovers power in how it approaches the most fundamental of decisions. War happens not because of debate or proper discussion or even the desire for others' freedom, it happens because no matter how much we screw it up the decision has already been taken.

Not one for people who don't like cussing or insanely creative insults, but this is that rarity that is a good British comedy.

Transfer and Sound

Without completely losing the video and hand held appearance of the original TV show, In the Loop maintains a documentary aesthetic with a few added exterior shots to prove that we are on location, and some wider setup shots than what we have become used to in The Thick of It. The presentation of that look here is sharp with a bluish tint and healthy deep blacks. It's an MPEG4 encoded transfer and takes up 26.3GB of the disc - it appears very solid with few remarkable pros and cons.

On the audio side there are two high definition tracks with a PCM stereo track and a master audio 5.1 mix as well. The PCM track has a bitrate of 2250kbps and the lack of surround channels outside of a memorable club scene is no great loss to be honest. The DTS track does offer extra ambience and both options serve up clear audio, occasional music, and rare effects mixed cleanly without distortion or obvious defect. Along with an audio description track, this release has excellent soundtracks.

Discs and Special Features

Coming with a rogue pre-menu, this disc is cleverly designed with much use of the films dialogue alongside animation of the people and words. Each sub menu comes with a "close" option and getting around the disc is simple stuff. As extra features there are contributions from the cast and director in the way of interviews and a commentary. The commentary is very jolly with all the main British cast teamed with Iannucci, and any silences broken by Addison. The actors applaud each other and discuss technique, Iannucci clearly finds himself seeing better ways of carrying the action out, and the warmth of their interaction is rather good fun to be around bar some poor jokes from Capaldi.
Addison and Gina McKee are interviewed together with the former wisecracking and McKee confident and trying to enjoy the situation. Addison lets on that the first cut of the film was four and a half hours long and both confirm that the director is a satirical God. Tom Hollander explains that his introduction to Iannucci came via his former partner, Doon Mackichan, and how he enjoyed the spontaneity of the director and his methods. Capaldi is much more actorly, analysing the directorial style far more and talking about the art of keeping it real and fresh. Finally, the director himself pops up to talk about film influences(Woody Allen, MASH and The Great Dictator) and to explain how he was inspired by the real dodgy dossier, the vacillating Claire Short resignation and his research revealing that Washington is in fact ran by 23 year olds.

For once in my reviewing existence I can report that the deleted scenes are well worth their inclusion. Many are funny extensions of material within the movie and some are missed, such as Jamie's attempt to bollock Gina McKee and longer introductions to the new minister. The storyboard featurette displays pages from the script alongside how they were eventually filmed, which simply shows how straightforward the mise en scene is and this makes the comparison between page and screen far from interesting. Less fun again are the almost 30 snippets called webisodes which borrow from some of the deleted scenes but are mostly very short scenes which were edited together as virals.


A funny British film which isn't aimless nostalgia or cinematic tourism - Richard Curtis, take note, it can be done.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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