★ ★ ★ ★
Politicians are among the favorite targets of American comedians. For some reason, this hasn't resulted in more than a handful of respectable Hollywood political satires. Thank God for the Brits. Anyone who's ever been involved in politics has surely heard of Yes, Minister! It is a cult series among politicos; the gold standard for political satire. No political satire had rivaled it, until Armando Iannucci's In The Loop. While it may not have eclipsed Yes, Minister!, it is easily the best political satire since.
Unlike the high level bureaucratic shenanigans of Yes, Minister!, In the Loop follows a British staffer who works for Minister of International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander). Foster unintentionally takes a controversial position on the possible invasion of Iraq, leading to an international scandal. Toby (Chris Addison) convinces his boss to take him along on a trip to D.C., where the minister hopes to repair the damage he's done. A series of further slip ups by Simon and his staff worsen the situation. A high level US politician latches onto Foster's seemingly pro-war comments, and uses them to demonstrate British support for the invasion. The hapless Minister is enlisted by an anti-war Secretary of State, who hopes to use him to turn things around. This alliance is brokered by Toby, who happens to have went to grad school with the Secretary of State's assistant. Joined by a high ranking general (James Gandalfini), this triumvirate takes on the ultimate force in DC: Zeitgeist.
While ostensibly about high level diplomacy, the significance of the film lies in its focus on the role of staffers in the political process. I suspect that Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell spent a good deal of time hanging around staffers while writing the screenplay. While high level bureaucrats and political advisers try to control the agenda, the ultimate responsibility lies with an army of neophytes. No matter how much he yells and screams, the party's director of communications (Peter Capaldi) doesn't seem to have any control over the situation. While the situation is extreme, it isn't implausible. Politics accords a shocking level of power to very young people. Though none of the politicos I know has ever been involved in a scandal, it isn't too hard to imagine how a minor lapse of judgement can spiral out of control.
If you're at all interested in politics, In the Loop is a must see. It is a candid depiction of the lives of political staffers, rendered similarly to The Office. It is uncomfortable, disconcerting, and more importantly, it is absolutely hilarious.