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July 27, 2009


Dirty politics and In the Loop

In the Loop and Burn After Reading haircuts

In the Loop is a little funnier than the other summer comedies, and dark dark dark-- it's meaner than The Hangover and more linguistically vulgar than Bruno. There's enough spectacular profanity in In the Loop that I guess the producers didn't bother to fight with the MPAA and potentially set a precedent for earning an NC-17 rating solely for swearing. It's unrated.

You can read the reviews (A.O. Scott in the Times, and the Washington Post review which unfortunately isn't by the paper's In the Loop columnist) and hear all about the witty barbs and conniving, selfish characters in the US and UK governments all trying to keep their heads above water as their leaders shove them toward war.

The movie is about Iraq and Bush and Blair and Rumsfeld, but it doesn't use any of those names. Instead it's about all the smaller government players scrambling to understand the larger machinations at work, and pointlessly trying to influence outcomes that have already been decided by people who don't care about democratic process or making the world a better place. It reminded me of Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead", a great play (and less great movie) about the two minor players in Hamlet, bewildered as they try to understand what's going on and what they're supposed to be doing while all the big Shakespearean guys are making things happen. Mostly they stand around and play acrobatic word games.

The word games in In the Loop are funnier. The best is lead British communications guy/Rottweiler, Malcolm Tucker, who in one scene accommodates an American official's sensitive ears by pronouncing his favorite swear word "F-star-star-cunt".

Anyway, I saw some parallels between this movie and the Coen Brother's Burn After Reading, another DC political comedy about people who think they're "in the loop", but are really small players in over their heads inside a political machine that chews them up and spits them out. Burn After Reading has an ambitious but bumbling duo, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, who try to blackmail an ex-CIA agent with a document that they think is a lot more important than it actually is. In the Loop has ambitious but clueless British aides and Secretaries excitedly caught up in the debates leading to the Iraq war, while actually being used by the US government to fabricate evidence to legitimize a baseless war that's going to happen anyway.

The American staffers aren't really in the loop, either. Assistant Secretary Karen Clark, who has Frances McDormand's exact sandy bob haircut from Burn After Reading (above), gets shut out by another State Department big, Linton Barwick, who's an amalgam of every senior member of the Bush administration. He's played by David Rasche, who also played J.K. Simmons's CIA assistant in the funniest scenes in Burn After Reading.

It's a great little movie, but has no redeeming characters and the story spins away to nothing by the end. In the Loop is getting better reviews than Burn After Reading did, partially because it's less slapstick and more talky and the swears are a lot more creative, and because we're impressed by British comedy over here and expect the Coens to be more serious than they actually are.

You can watch episodes of the UK TV show "The Thick of It", which is the predecessor to In the Loop and has some of the same characters--they're all up on YouTube. Here's the first one. And here's an interview with the writer/director Armando Iannucci about making the Iraq war funny and the lax security they encountered at the State Department.

categories: Movies, Politics, War and Security
posted by amy at 12:12 PM | #

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The Washington Post could not use enough OMGs and exclamation points in their review of The Ugly Truth, while Manohla's review was, predictably, eviscerating. I'm tempted to see it just to see if I think Manohla's being a judgmental bitch or not. But then I know the answer to that.

I loved Burn After Reading even though it wasn't very funny because it was one of the few movies about Washington that points out that almost everyone who lives there has nothing to do with the Important Business of Washington, but lots of people like to think they're close to it. Also, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, and the fantasy that people who work for the CIA make enough money to live in Georgetown.

Posted by: T-Rock at July 27, 2009 6:26 PM

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