May 25, 2009

In the Loop

One of the staples of filming is that you take a successful television series, play with the plot a bit and turn the whole thing into a film hoping that the magic that worked before will work again. Armando Ianucci and his cast were therefore asked to wave their wands again (a metaphor that the film's character's would easily give a phallic symbolism to) and come up with a film based on the BBC comedy series- the Thick of it. What they have produced is a film in which a hapless minister is sent by the Prime Minister to Washington to get involved in the American debate about going to war in a hypothetical Middle Eastern Country, at issue is intelligence from a hypothetical single source (Iceman is the Curveball of this metaphorical war) and a dossier produced by a young aide to the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy. The US debate involves a sinister Rumsfeldian Assistant Secretary of State, a pacifist diplomatic Assistant Secretary of State and a General traumatised so much by the experience of war (Vietnam?) that he doesn't want to fight another one. On the British side there is the minister, his own young political advisor and the Downing Street spin operation- not to mention the rather more idealistic men and women at the FCO and the ever present media.

The parallels within the film are hardly exact but they are meant to apply to the situation in Iraq- there are other unwitting parallels that noone could have expected at the time that the film was made (the Home Secretary's husband will wince when the minister says at one point that he is scared of ordering porn as it might be revealed through his expenses!). In general though the film is not really about whether the decision to go to war is right or not- we never see any of the details that suggest either way- but about the process. We can understand that certain people within the process- particularly the caricature of the neocon are unpleasant but we can't see that they are wrong. What the film shows us about the process of politics ties very much in with the way that the process was described in 'The Thick of it': we have the dithering minister and the dominating spin doctor, we have the assorted flunkies whose duties range from making cups of tea to making war and everything in between and we have the sense that everyone involved is pretty mundane. Toby the political advisor in particular is less of a political genius and more of a chancer- a Del Boy with a suit, good looks, a mobile phone and a middle class accent.

The key thing to realise though about In the Loop, and the Thick of It before it, is that it is not really about politics- not in the sense that say the West Wing is about politics. In the Loop is really about working which relates to politics- Toby sleeps with someone who he meets on a business trip, Malcolm is the boss from hell swearing and shouting but ultimately without the bludgeons to back up his bluster and the minister is an indecisive middle manager. The film doesn't make a comment about politics so much as it makes a comment about these people and their methods of management. There lies perhaps the greatest weakness of the film as opposed to the TV Series- because deep down its about management and people not about politics, its kinship to The Office is stronger than to Yes Prime Minister, the political side of it does not work so well. Ultimately the American characters work as characters but their binding to the British situation does not work- that is because with the introduction particularly of the neo-con you have the introduction of a filmic 'baddie'- something that the universe of the 'Thick of it' never had. The material also because its a situational based sitcom works best as a tv show- left for too long in this non-political political Office you begin to wonder where all the politics has gone in the Fing and Blinding.

I enjoyed In the Loop, I laughed at many points, there are some good performances there. It carries on the humour of the series- it has few serious political points to make but doesn't really try to make them. But I am still uncertain that this is material best suited ot a film- I still think that taking the cast outside the UK and into foreign policy and clumsily fitting in an Iraq parallel doesn't quite work. If you haven't seen the series its worth seeing the film- and I know people who haven't who have loved the movie- if you have seen the series prepare to be slightly disappointed.


edmund said...

A few thoughts a few plot spoilers as well i should add I have not wathced the series-so it may be so truly outstanding it's much better even than the film

a) "pacificist" on the leading american opponent of the War-she doens't seem so just anti this war.

b) "Malcolm is the boss from hell swearing and shouting but ultimately without the bludgeons to back up his bluster" i disagree with his noone in the know boss (except for macknesie ) and he seems to have a ton of bludgeons he pushes out Foster (the minister) , his minion nearly fires people , he gets a death grip over toby, forges the document etc

c) I dont' really see how the neocon character is a baddy character in a way Malcolm is not- the only differences seem to be you seem him less, his cooler, he seems to actualy believe in what his doing more and isn't quite as upleansenat (and hence in the show not nearly so funny)

d) it seems to me to do a very good job of keeping the war's merits at bay for all but about 2 mins , a fictioanl film about foreing policy nearly alwasy strikems me as very dubiosu anyway-because it's so easy to frame the "facts" according to your preexistent.

e) i would add there is no really decent character (probaly right in a comedy ) though the foreing office people close.