Monday, April 27, 2009

In the Loop

Yes, I've always liked The Thick of It on TV, and yes, I'm one of the group who thinks that the general idea has survived the transfer to a two-hour expression on the cinema screen. I laughed, a lot. Whether Armando Iannucci and co.'s satirical effectiveness quite survives the use of a lot more recognisable details and incidents from (fairly) recent reality may be slightly more debatable, but I guess that this movie may be one of the more enduring and plausible memorials to the great and inglorious international political manouevres of 2003.

In opening the claustrophobic squabbling of The Thick of It out onto the international stage, Iannucci really needed a complete new cast of characters - aside from Peter Capaldi's feral Malcolm Tucker (and his simply psychotic sidekick Jamie), of course - but he's chosen to cast most of the same actors in new and slightly different roles. This may confuse anyone who paid close attention to the TV original's social dynamics, but what the heck, they're good actors. Mind you, I did wonder how someone as clueless and ineffectual as Tom Hollander's Simon Foster could ever have become a cabinet minister; I know that one of Iannucci's themes is that nobody really knows anything, but Foster barely seems able to tie up his own shoelaces.

The plot also brings into focus the key point about Malcolm; no, not the unremitting obscenity, but his status as some kind of archetype of the power of an unrelenting will. He wins because he cares about nothing except winning. He's smart, but the point is that he applies that intelligence to one purpose; he's also fearless, even if there's a touch of terror-of-the-void driving him on. A few other characters find ways to threaten him quite effectively, but they can't make him lose the plot. Most of the other characters suffer from cowardice; Chris Addison's Toby might almost be a sympathetic character if it wasn't for his childish attempts to deflect any hint of blame for anything - especially things that he's done. They're also often concerned with status or comfort, whereas it's not clear if Malcolm has a life beyond work, and he's exactly where he wants to be.

It's a terrifying idea, really - Malcolm Tucker as a Nietzschean ubermensch with more F-words - and it's maybe a small comfort that news stories of the last few weeks suggest that real spin doctors, while just as nasty as Malcolm, are a bit less competent. Likewise, not only does the thinly-disguised-Iraq plot date the movie in a slightly confusing way, but we can now at least imagine David Rasche's plain-flat-barking-mad neocon Linton Barwick out on his ear and reduced to delivering bizarre rantings to a shrinking audience of idiotic devotees. (It's just a shame it took so long.) I guess it might be interesting to see The Thick of It tackle more current specific events, but Iannucci could say that he did that better with things like The Day Today, and I suspect that when the TV series returns, it'll reset to the introverted world of the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. Still, it'll surely be fun to see where Iannucci does go next.

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