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At the Movies: In the Loop ****:

Though it hardly seems likely that the planning and participation of the invasion of Iraq could have been decided after a series of embarrassing mishaps and angry communications managers, that is exactly the picture painted in the new brilliant war satire In the Loop.

Based on the show The Thick of It, In the Loop is so quick-witted the dialogue simply can’t be absorbed in one go. It is as though you are walking past someone in the airport saying funny things and just as they pass you they say the funniest thing you’ve ever heard only you couldn’t quite hear it fully. The entire movie is like that. Just when you get the joke, five more have been told. It’s exhausting in a way, but like everything that tires you out, it’s well worth the ride.

Directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, In the Loop bounced back and forth between London and Washington DC on the eve of the Iraq invasion. It all boils down to miscommunication by low level officials and aides looking for advancement. Chief among them, the raving, raging Peter Capaldi who plays the Prime Minister’s spin doctor trying to push through the war vote. Tom Hollander is hilarious as the British Secretary of State for International Development who accidentally says out loud that he supports war in Iraq.

That suddenly foists him in the war-mongering hands of the Americans. Back in DC, it’s James Gandolfini as Lt. General George Miller talking a good game about not wanting to back the war but when push comes to shove will he really be able to resist?

In between the major players are a lot of sideliners, who weave in and out like pivotal chess players leaking information to the press, screwing one another over and just plain screwing one another. Nothing is clean, everything is messy and the foundation upon which the war is built is an apparition.

But it isn’t really the war talk that makes In the Loop so utterly, thoroughly enjoyable – even if every other word is a profanity of one sort or another – it’s the ensemble work with these magnificent actors, all of them on their game, never dropping the ball.

Gandolfini relishes the opportunity to be funny, and he is one of the few who is formidable enough to match Capaldi line for line. Also good are the supporting players, like Chris Addison and Anna Chlumsky (remember her from My Girl all of those years ago?). She’s great as the smart aide or assistant whose war report is the one thing that might actually do some good.

Good political satire is hard to pull off. It seems like most of it was said and done in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Still Iannucci breathes new life into a relatively tired topic. It’s been a long time coming, though, the ability to laugh at it all. And maybe we laugh so that we may not cry.

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