The good news is that, when it comes to watching this quickfire comedy, you don't need to be in the loop as far as TV series The Thick Of It is concerned.

Although the film is a spin-off of the coruscatingly black BBC show, delving deeply into the politics of spin like its predecessor, only the character of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) remains. Thankfully, however, unlike so many that have gone before it (The League Of Gentlemen, Kevin And Perry Go Large, to name but two) the humour hasn't been lost in translation.

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Armando Iannucci - making his big screen directorial debut - has turned his attentions, along with a writing team of Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, to the 'special relationship' between Britain and America in the run-up to a proposed war in an unamed Middle Eastern country.

The UK and US governments are sparring for the fight, so when a minister from the backwaters of International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), unwittingly wades into the debate on a radio show, describing war as "unforeseeable", it isn't long before foul-mouthed prince of spin Tucker is hot on his tail. In a bid to deflect Malcolm's wrath, Simon digs himself in still further when in a second flustered media appearance he suggests “Britain must be ready to climb the mountain of conflict”. Now seemingly taking a stance that is both pro and anti-war, he finds himself thrust into the spotlight of Washington, where both sides want to use him to justify their ends.

In the pacifist corner are a General (James Gandolfini, playing against his usual belligerent type) and US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), who are waging their own cloak and dagger war against Secretary Of State Linton Barwick (David Rasche) - who fiercly supports invasion. This is only the tip of the iceberg, since beneath all the diplomats are civil servants, with their own network of allegiances, striving to further not only their bosses' agendas, but also their own careers. Among them is Simon's political advisor Toby (Chris Addison), his foreign office underling girlfriend Suzy (Olivia Poulet) and his American bit on the side Liza (Anna Chlumsky), who also happens to be Karen's aide. Throw in a waspish British Director of Communications (Gina McKee) and a disgruntled constituent (Steve Coogan) and the stage is set for a world of misunderstandings.

All of which makes it sound as though In The Loop is too complex for words - and that is the point. Iannucci opens a window on a world of Machiavellian strategists who are also really quite dim, on occasion, to show the tragedies which can occur once spin takes over from orderly debate. Following in the farcical footsteps of Yes, Minister, this shows the political machine to be not only slightly faulty but also in danger of running out of control. Once you've grasped the basic arc of the plot - the march towards a UN vote for war, which Malcolm is trying to push through while others plot against it - you can forget about the micro-level and simply sit back and enjoy the unbelievably taut and densely humourous scripting. Line after line proves infinitely quotable, such as, "In the land of the truth, the man with one fact is king" suggesting cult status, as well as critical acclaim, beckons.

The performances - featuring a fair amount of improvisation, which helps rough up the one-liners so they have a more natural edge - are universally terrific. Capaldi is in his element as the invective-spitting spin doctor, while stand-up Chris Addison shows his comic timing extends easily to dramatic roles. Gandolfini and Kennedy spice up the US arm of proceedings, matching their UK counterparts laugh for laugh.

It's true that In The Loop may not be the most cinematic venture you will have seen this year - the camera technique largely mirrors that of the TV show - but when it comes to humour with real satirical bite, you'll be laughing all the way to the brink of war.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2009
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Politicians spin while they're winning on the brink of a Middle East war. Plus read our interview with .

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Chris **1/2

Director: Armando Iannucci

Writer: Jesse Armstrong, Armando Iannucci

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, Anna Chlumsky, Steve Coogan, David Rasche, Gina McKee, Olivia Poulet

Year: 2009

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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