Despite a pedigree like so many British prestige projects -- award-winning actors and writers, topical subject matter, BBC roots -- “In the Loop” is no precious show dog. It’s a snarling, frothing little beastie straining at its leash.
In fact, when someone in the film uses the word “purview,” signature character Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister’s communications chief, launches into one of his trademark expletive-laced tirades: “Where do you think you are, in some sort of regency . . . costume drama? This is a government department, not a . . . Jane . . . Austen novel!”
Springing from the acclaimed TV series “The Thick of It,” the comedy concerns British complicity in the manipulation of arguments, facts and words to justify the U.S. invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Violently verbose and startlingly impolite, with shovelfuls of obscenities, “In the Loop” is the most savage, biting political satire on the big screen in years.
The snowball starts rolling when minor Cabinet minister Simon Foster makes a seemingly harmless remark during an interview (“War is unforeseeable”), precipitating a tornado of spin-doctoring. As the action shifts from London to Washington and ultimately to a climactic United Nations vote, operatives for and against military action engage in public relations jiu-jitsu.
The lethally witty script contains sly references to current British politics and infamous foibles of the previous American administration, such as assigning important responsibilities to the young and inexperienced: “It’s like ‘Bugsy Malone,’ but with real guns.”
Peter Capaldi’s hilariously volcanic Tucker owes less to Derek Jacobi’s master politician in “I, Claudius” than to R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket.” Tom Hollander’s Foster is an innocuous bumbler who realizes too late his role in this puppet theater. For the Yanks, James Gandolfini is a welcome presence as a bull-like general with strong convictions. David Rasche exudes slimy sub-rosa confidence as the Dick Cheney/Donald Rumsfeld stand-in.
The film can feel like a series of dressings down, and the romantic subplots are superfluous, but “In the Loop” is a very effective, verbally blood-stained portrait of how a little brazen scheming on one side, coupled with selfishness and failure of nerve on the other, can actually change the world.
‘In the Loop’
MPAA rating: Unrated
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Playing: At the Landmark in West L.A., Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena