Armando Iannucci has been one of the most influential figures in comedy for the last 20 years uniting such brilliant comedians as Chris Morris, Stewart Lee and Steve Coogan and producing the crème de la crème of satire in The Day Today and The Thick Of It. His directorial debut is a satirical tour de force, hilariously funny, bitingly critical and one of the best films of the year so far.
In The Loop builds on the backstabbing and incompetence expounded in the BBC's The Thick of It, moving from Whitehall to Washington in the run up to a fictional war. Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is an ineffectual British Minister who stirs up political controversy by blurting out that "war is unforeseeable" on national television. He's subsequently used as a pawn by administrations on both sides of the Atlantic in order to justify a potential war in an unnamed Middle Eastern country.
Whilst there's been an almost endless amount of comedy that lampoons those actually in power, In The Loop spends more time with the everyday worker bees, those who run meetings and chase paper and it demonstrates how governmental policy can be just as distorted by their own personal agendas.
Tom Hollander's floundering Simon Foster is used as a puppet, frequently out-manoeuvred and out-thought by those of superior intellect; he's like a rabbit caught in the headlights, way out of his depth in the waters of international diplomacy. He's not helped by Toby (Chris Addison), his fresh-faced new aide who is too focussed on ladder climbing and getting into the pants of his US counterpart to be of any help.
The undoubted star of the film is Peter Capaldi, reprising his role in The Thick of It as the viciously aggressive spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker. His foam-flecked outbursts are the most consistently hilarious thing about the film; any dislike for the character is swept aside by his inventively Machiavellian deceitfulness and poisonously sharp tongue.
The dialogue is sharp and quick; Tucker's verbal standoff with the peace-loving US General Miller (James Gandolfini) is one of the highlights of the movie but there are also some excruciating moments of silent embarrassment. This should come as no surprise as one of the co-writers is Jesse Armstrong, one of the writers of Peep Show.
The writing is masterful, wonderfully observed and side-splittingly funny. One scene in which General Miller is number-crunching potential troop casualties on an oversized pink calculator in a child's bedroom is utter genius.
Important policy decisions in In the Loop are often made by the little people, people who bully and bribe, cajole and intimidate others weaker than themselves. Facts aren't objective; they're simply what people are told. "You may have heard him say that, but he did not say that and that is a fact" seethes Malcolm Tucker. Small personal wars are fought in meetings and boardrooms and yet, you can't help but wonder if this is how government policy is actually dictated. What if governmental decisions are actually made in environments that are as petty as any office? It's a scary thought.
In The Loop is one of the cleverest, witty and not to mention funny films you're going to see in 2009. If you miss it, you deserve to be impeached.