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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

10 Reasons You Must See In the Loop

Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop is one of the smartest, funniest and most vulgar films sinceThe Big Lebowski and is almost as quotable.  It is the story of how one British bureaucrat’s slip of the tongue can be the catalyst for a campaign for war in the Middle East.  There are scenes in secret Congressional meetings and UN hearings, but the tone is one similar to that of The Office, deadpan comedy at the expense of realistic human foibles.  Between this and The Hurt Locker – a film I will champion all year – things are starting to look up for 2009.

Mark my words, In the Loop will be a massive cult film once it hits DVD and is watched over and over again.  Being on the bandwagon early is but one of the reasons why you should see the best political comedy of the decade.  Here are ten more (in no particular order of importance):

1. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker

This is the guy everybody is going to be talking about, telling their friends about; I actually think Capaldi has a legitimate shot at being nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  His character of Malcolm Tucker is exquisitely, beautifully vulgar, making symphonies out of words like “fuck” and “shit” in the same way that Alec Baldwin did in Glengarry Glen Ross, except with a wonderful Scottish brogue.  Imagine that Baldwin scene, except you get to hang out with that character and follow him throughout the entire film and his demeanor never changes or wavers.

As the Secretary of Communication, Tucker is a character that is acutely aware of how things are perceived.  He is always the smartest man in the room and someone who is looking out for his own best interests, probably at your expense.  He even treats his allies like foes and he’s always ill-tempered about something, causing him to spew out these wonderfully dirty one-liners in a machine-gun style, hitting you with so many that you don’t even take the time to laugh because you’re afraid you might miss something glorious.

The writing is amazing, to be sure, but the way Capaldi brings it to life is truly a thing of beauty.  I’d only seen him once before, on a couple of episodes of the brilliant British seriesSkins, but that didn’t prepare me at all for his tour-de-force in this film.  Capaldi is fifty years old, but this is truly a star-making performance.

2. Funniest film of the year

The most amazing thing about the way the film is written and structured is that while the tone remains consistently cheeky, there are a lot of different types of comedy at work here, depending on which characters are in the scene and how they play off one another.  Each character is funny in a very peculiar and particular way and everyone will have a different favorite and the joy is watching them interact.  Capaldi’s character is funny because of how ornery he is while Tom Hollander is funny in a sadder, Michael Scott kind of way while Chris Addison is funny in a bumbling, goofy sort of way.  Watching all of them bounce off each other, one being goofy, the other mopey, the other angry, some of the others are sniveling while others are funny because of their cowardice and it all just stews together.  Much like in real life, the joy is in the differences between the people and the film is so adept at making those awkward exchanges feel piercingly real, which in turn makes them hilarious.

3. Quotable lines

Capaldi’s got all the best lines, including a gem involving Jane Austen and a horse’s penis, but there’s enough to go around.  I would love to repeat them here, but I don’t want to ruin the experience for you.  I will just say, though, that in the scene that Capaldi and James Gandolfini share together, there are so many wonderful insults thrown back and forth that I could not stop myself from smiling the whole time.

Speaking of Gandolfini…

4. James Gandolfini

Who the hell knew that Tony Soprano could be so damn funny?  Here he’s playing an Army General who is serious about trying to stop this war at all costs and even more serious about his job.  He’s a man who is put in a dicey predicament, the only man in the film who actually knows the real cost of war and he’s reluctant to sign based on false pretenses that might involve a lot of troops being killed.  But he’s also sharp as hell and quick-witted and Gandolfini smiles just enough to bring the right amount of levity to the proceedings.

Basically Gandolfini’s character is supposed to be the “Colin Powell” of the story, a good man in an untenable situation.  Except in this case, he’s got a wicked and dry sense of humor.

5. My Girl Anna Chlumsky

One of my first crushes was on the young lady from My Girl and I was so jealous of that little bastard Macauley Culkin when he kissed her that I was happy when he got stung by bees.  Uh, anyway, it’s nice to see Anna Chlumsky back on the screen in a fairly big role, as the aide to a bigwig in the State Department.  Even better, the girl’s got great comic chops, especially the deadpan way she deals with her sniveling rival Chad (played with caustic brilliance by Zach Woods).  The back and forth between these two is priceless.

6. Wonderful photography

It’s not often that I get the chance to praise the cinematography in a comedy, but this film is really surprisingly well shot by DP Jamie Cairney.  There is nothing over the top or showy, but there is a fair amount of handheld work which at times gives the film a naturalistic feel – not quite documentary but something not far off.  More than anything, the way the film is shot makes you feel like you are there; whether that means the United Nations or an airport or a dingy office in the British countryside, the photography is evocative and immersive.

7. Steve Coogan

Coogan is one of the funniest guys there is, but until now he’s only really been used properly in Michael Winterbottom films (24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy).  Here, Coogan runs a little bit free in a story that might not seem like it has a lot to do with the central plot of the film, but is tied in together nicely at the end.  Basically, he’s a pissed off taxpayer that wants the government to fix the wall of his house because it’s going to fall down.  Since this is a minor character, it could be played in any number of ways, but Coogan takes the oddest possible route without being overtly strange.  There is just something about his demeanor in this film and the way he carries himself that is realistically creepy, which makes him all the funnier because we’ve all dealt with people just like him.

8. Fully realized characters

I can’t stress how amazed I am at how Iannucci and his team of writers managed to make every single character – down to the bit parts – seem like an actual, flesh and blood human being in only 100 minutes.  Every character has a clear motive and agenda that is conveyed to us quickly and because each character is so clearly defined, it’s easy to remember all of them, right down to the smaller parts.

The key realization by the filmmakers is that politicians and their aides are so single-minded in their focus and they’re all really focused on the same thing: keeping their jobs and not looking like a fool.  And the other brilliant stroke was by making the way each character avoids that fate the way we would define them.  There are no heroes in this film, per se, just a lot of shifting alliances and shifting perspectives, moving deck furniture on a sinking ship.  And each character is a different piece of deck furniture, all of them uniquely shaped.

9. Tom Hollander

You’d definitely recognize Hollander if you saw him.  He’s often playing the small, buffoonish man in period pieces like Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Libertine as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.  As I said earlier, Hollander is playing the “Michael Scott” role (of the American Office), the sad and bumbling “boss” who is consistently making the wrong decisions and saying the wrong things.  Hollander’s character is a bit more aware of his faults than Michael Scott, but he’s just as powerless to stop himself.

Hollander’s character is responsible for much of the mess that ensues in the film and he becomes a symbol for why war is inevitable – even accidentally coining a rallying cry – despite the fact that he’s against the war.  But no matter how many times he tries to speak out, the wrong message has already gotten out there and it’s already being spun.  The message is that no matter how much you scream about what you believe in, that one quote, that one misspoken word, will be used against you for all eternity.

10. It’s an important film

“Twelve thousand troops. But that’s not enough. That’s the amount that are going to die. And at the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you’ve lost.”

James Gandolfini’s General Miller says that line and it sums up what is so brilliant about the film.  That line is simultaneously truthful, sad and deeply funny when said by Gandolfini.  Despite the fact that it is clearly trying to be a comedy, it says more about the political issues in our world – and the hopelessness of trusting politicians – than any “serious” film could.  It’s similar to the way that Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team have become more reliable as newsmen than actual news anchors; because of the way they poke fun at the system, it gets more to the heart of the matter than simply accepting the spin and printing the story.

There are a lot of long conversations you can have with people after seeing this movie; conversations about war, media, truth, justice, politics and government.  That’s more than the average comedy will give you.  This is not The Hangover, it’s not about a bunch of guys getting drunk and screwing with each other; it’s about more important things than that.

But it’s even funnier.

– Noah Forrest
July 27, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon