starring Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini
screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
directed by Armando Iannucci
by Jefferson Robbins It's the Downing Street Memo actualized as comedy. Spun off from director Armando Iannucci's own 2005 BBC series "The Thick Of It", In the Loop broadens its scope from the backroom foibles of clueless, self-interested British MPs to encompass the American policy vultures, partisan hacks, and PTSD generals who devise, or are victimized by, war policy. Ported over wholesale from "The Thick Of It" is Peter Capaldi's bloodthirsty Malcolm Tucker, chief enforcer for the Prime Minister and an architect of profanity in the service of intimidation. (He builds heroic ziggurats of oaths, then bounces luckless junior officials down their jagged steps.) Tucker uses the gaffes of international development minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander)--who publicly declares that war is "unforeseeable" on the eve of an Anglo-American military push in the Mideast--for political leverage, as do the warring forces inside the U.S. Pentagon itself. This pits the British contingent against their equally self-absorbed Beltway counterparts, including policy analyst Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky--yes, that Anna Chlumsky), whose paper exposing the maladjusted intelligence feeding the war fever is itself being maladjusted by hawkish defense undersecretary Linton Barwick (David Rasche), and General George Miller (James Gandolfini), who fears the casualty projections for the oncoming clash. ("At the end of a war, you need some soldiers left, really," he pronounces, "or it looks like you've lost.") In the Loop works both as a Stateside showcase for Iannucci's floating-camera satire of ego-powered bureaucracy and as a marker for how British power must view itself today: a mere client state. Even the most powerful UK players are blown about by the Yank whirlwind, whether they're sexually buffaloed (Chris Addison's ministerial aide Toby, enamoured of wonkette Liza) or simply checkmated by well-applied Colonial ignorance (Tucker vs. Barwick, who molds Liza's objective pre-war analysis into a casus belli: "Take out all the conditions... Like 'might have found,' make that 'have found'"). By the time Tucker is reduced to nonverbal spluttering in the United Nations' meditation chamber, the course of Empire is clearly set--and not by its own choosing.