Hilarious ‘In the Loop’ shows the messy, petty side of war

In the run-up to real war, the messiest battles are waged behind the scenes by bureaucratic troops armed with memos, leaked reports, white papers and committees. These soldiers are as fierce as they are petty, and every effort is made to minimize collateral damage to precious political careers.

Thick tension

A British satire of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “In the Loop” is irreverent, inappropriate and probably spot-on. Spun off from the BBC television series “The Thick of It,” the film is fast, funny and is paced like a long sitcom. The movie screens 2 p.m. Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

At the center of the action is midlevel British government worker Simon Foster (Tom Hollander, “The Soloist“), the minister for international development. Backed into a corner during a radio interview, Foster mistakenly opines that a war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable.”

The tape lands on the desk of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, TV’s “Torchwood“), the prime minister’s “enforcer,” who’s tasked with making sure every Brit in official capacity toes the proper line. His technique involves threats of physical violence and admirable streams of creative cursing.

Foster’s team goes into PR overdrive. Leading the department is Judy Molloy (Gina McKee, “Atonement“), a tired, bureaucratic veteran whose role is eventually overshadowed by hapless newcomer Toby (Chris Addison, “The Thick of It“), who is appointed Foster’s assistant for a fact-finding trip to the United States. Rallying around Foster’s “unforeseeable” comment is a host of midlevel political leaders in the U.S., a rabble that is simultaneously planning an invasion, preventing an invasion and denying any such planning altogether.

Thick tension
Tension is thick between the two U.S. assistant secretaries of state, Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy, TV’s “Dharma & Greg“), tasked with taking the diplomatic lead, and Linton Barwick (David Rasche, “Burn After Reading“), a policy wonk with a hankering for clandestine meetings and secret committees with innocuous names and sinister purposes.

James Gandolfini (“Where the Wild Things Are“) makes an appearance as Lt. Gen. George Miller, an impatient medal-bedecked war hawk caught between Clarke and Barwick. There’s a particularly funny scene with Gandolfini and Kennedy, where in a child’s bedroom at some head of state’s house, the general reaches for a pink, Math-‘N-Teach-type toy to calculate troop-deployment numbers for an invasion.

While not exactly gritty, the hilarious “In the Loop” has a casual style ” handheld camera work, awkward angles, improvisation ” that coats every scene with an insidery veneer, a style the Brits perfected with TV series like “The Office.” Also delightful is omnipresent vulgarity, usually uttered by Capaldi’s Tucker character, who uses “fuck” like a comma to string together compound run-on sentences of brilliant profanity.

Instead of building to a big showdown, the film’s action is mundane and lifelike. Little fights are picked and conflicts are resolved only with resentments and vows for future vengeance. And because all are utterly disloyal to anything but their own interests, there’s a tangled web of agreements and small-time office politics that’s familiar and frightening, especially given the ramifications of lifetime bureaucrats and their top-secret “Future Planning Committees.” “Joe Wertz

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Joe Wertz

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