Film tackles Iraq with humor
'In the Loop' uses satire to shine light in the darkLONDON -- After a series of films on the Iraq war flopped at the box office, a biting political satire about British and U.S. officials concocting dubious evidence to justify invasion hopes that humor can do the trick.
"In the Loop" is a fictional comedy starring James Gandolfini, but the character of Malcolm Tucker, an aggressive, acid-tongued "spin doctor" to the British prime minister, bears clear comparison to the real-life Alastair Campbell.
Campbell served under Tony Blair and helped prepare for public consumption the intelligence that was used to justify war in Iraq.
The cast of British and U.S. politicians caught up in a tussle between supporters and opponents of war in an unspecified Middle Eastern country is also designed to be close enough to the truth to make audiences think.
"My professional and natural reaction to all these things is to go for comedy," said Scottish director Armando Iannucci, who was angered by what he felt was a misleading campaign by the British government to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"That doesn't mean to say when you do a comedy about a topic you are lightening that topic or you are making less of it," he told Reuters in an interview to promote the movie.
"If anything, I find that comedy helps you analyze it in more ways. There were lots of straight dramas about Iraq in the last year or so and I think people found them fairly heavy going and a bit of a turn off ... and I wanted to do something that felt a little bit more timeless but also human."
Movies related to the war in Iraq include those set in the conflict zone ("Redacted," "The Hurt Locker") and those dealing with people's lives back home ("In the Valley of Elah," "Grace is Gone"). Most were largely ignored by U.S. audiences.
In the Loop ranges from satire -- a hapless junior minister is torn between what is right and what is best for his career -- to slapstick farce as Tucker races around Washington desperately cobbling together "intelligence" proving the case for war.
Political double-speak is sent up as the minister Simon Foster (played by Tom Hollander) seeks to keep his options open with comments like: "To walk the road of peace sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict."
Much humor derives from Tucker's expletive-ridden tirades against the minister and anyone else who dares get in his way.
Gandolfini plays a general who opposes an invasion but changes his tune when war looks inevitable.
There is also a cameo role for Steve Coogan, one of Foster's constituents who badgers him at inopportune moments about his mother's garden wall which is about to fall down.
Critics have praised the film, which hits British cinemas on April 17, although some wonder whether the rapid-fire speech and Tucker's Scottish accent may dent its commercial potential.
"Maybe the best thing about this hilarious, superb, black comedy is its use of language, veering from elaborate schoolboy profanity to exquisite wordplay and sublime parody of government doublethink," Damon Wise said in the Times.
Campbell was asked by the BBC to review the film, which is a spinoff of the TV series "The Thick of It," and wrote that he struggled to stay awake and was "too bored to be offended."
Iannucci took it as a compliment.
"He says he was bored and I just wonder, is that because he's seen it all before? I would far rather Alastair Campbell was bored into a stupor than anyone else really. I think that's a good thing, a good thing if he's rendered inactive."