4.5.09

In The Loop

It's a weird feeling when you find yourself agreeing with Alastair Campbell. This is what he thought of the film. He's right, it really can't sustain the frantic momentum of its parent TV show. There are baggy bits, where you start wondering where the film is going. However, the final half hour totally makes up for it, screwing the tension up to a kinetic showdown between Capaldi and Gandolfini - one of the most sublime moments of cinema I have ever experienced. Looking back from this towering height, the meandering this-is-going-nowhere developments in the middle of the film are strangely fitting, seeing as the audience are in exactly the same position as the characters.

Boring it definitely isn't. Jokes are not always roll-on-the-ground funny (although they often are), but they never let up. There was a constant smile on my face all the way through. Campbell is obviously made of sterner stuff. Or, you know... he's lying.

Here we get to the knotty problem at the heart of In The Loop. Campbell, and Michael Portillo on Newsnight Review, came out against the film because its portrayal of politics was so far removed from their own experience. As Campbell says, the film suggests that 'all politics was basically crass, all politicians venal, all advisers base'. He concedes that 'politicians and advisers have their own ambitions. But they have more than that'. He's right (ahh, how that hurts!). Real MPs and their advisers are not this incompetent and unscrupulous. Mark Kermode uses recent Labour sleaze as evidence that, really, they are. But this generalizes from a specific case. The reality is that politicians have a variety of motives for going into politics, both noble and base, as Campbell says. But in stressing this particular failing, I believe Campbell and Portillo miss the film's point.

In The Loop doesn't pretend to be an accurate representation of the way politics and politicians work. It's not a political drama like The West Wing. It's satire. Satire (apologies for being condescending) exaggerates certain deplorable aspects of life for comic effect. The dirty tricks behind In The Loop's sexed-up dossier are ridiculous, the characters that cook it up are caricatures. That's the point. That's how the film makes its point. And contra Campbell, it does add something new to the TV show, just not in the grey direction Campbell would prefer. Instead, the film goes further into the black.

For Capaldi's monstrous creation gets an airing, and we finally get to see through his venomous exterior and into the dark recesses of his soul. Malcolm gets insulted by the American head honcho, and those barbs bite deep. For the first time, we see him not in control, and not running the show. His monumental ego is wounded, so much so that the vicious threats he so liberally spews are blocked up. In this moment, Armando Iannucci shows us the evil demon behind politics - the consuming need to control, bully and dominate others, simply because your ego demands it. Malcolm is a caricature, but he reveals a very real and frightening aspect of the will-to-power.

Is there no ray of light in this nihilistic horror show? I think there is. Just take a look at the women. In a telling scene, Liza storms off leaving Toby and Chad to continue their dick-measuring contest. Iannucci shows the egotistical, selfish will-to-power to be an overwhelmingly male trait. All the men in the film, including the peace-loving General Miller, compromise themselves, leaving the women to pick up the pieces. They are usually the ones on top of the situation (Judy), or who demonstrate real intelligence (Liza), or care about someone other than themselves (Suzy). They cut through the testosterone of the film, and demonstrate, from the sidelines, another way of doing politics.

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