How the politics behind the Iraq War became a comedy filmby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A new political satire which has drawn rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic opens in the Twin Cities this weekend.
"In the Loop" is a behind the scenes look at the run-up to an invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Director Armando Iannucci says all he wanted to do was make a funny film.
The film follows a chain of events when a hapless British cabinet minister unwittingly tells a reporter a war in the Middle East is 'unforeseeable.'
He thought he was playing it safe, but he's strayed from the party line. After getting pressure from the Prime Minister he goes before the cameras to try to straighten things out.
"Is war unforeseeable Minister?' asks a TV journalist.
"Look, all sorts of things that are very likely are also unforeseeable," he says. "For the plane in the fog, the mountain is unforeseeable, but then it is suddenly very real and inevitable."
As he keep talking he becomes even more unintelligible, but snippets of what he says are seized upon by people opposed to the war in Washington. Suddenly he's sent to the U.S. and finds himself in the center of an international debate over a war that hasn't happened yet.
Writer and director Armando Iannucci said he didn't set out to write a political comedy.
"I always wanted to do a comedy film, a sort of screwball comedy with lots of funny one-liners, fast paced, fast talking and an ever tightening plot, and not really expecting to do one about a war," Iannucci said.
He said he went looking for a story around the time of the run up to the Iraq War.
"The more I read about the dysfunction within the different departments within Washington," he said, "the bitter rivalry between the State Department and the Pentagon and also the way the Brits, under Tony Blair, kind of got sucked in and used by the different factions in Washington, the more I thought, 'Well either you tear your hair out and scream at how futile it all was, or else you think, that's a farce.'"
Iannucci realized with the right treatment this could the comedy he was seeking. He did a lot of research both in London and Washington, and began creating the story around characters he had created for a comedy series called "In the Thick of It" for British TV.
He said he was very careful as he wrote to be even handed.
"I didn't want to say as the film started, 'These are the good guys and these are the bad guys,'" he said. "I wanted really to leave that to the audience to make up their own minds what they felt about people and then by the end of the film see whether they were right."
Iannucci wrote a script which he then used with his cast to improvise a little, 'dirtying it up' as he calls it, to make it seem more realistic.
It has to be said that the story is told in very profane terms. In fact, one character, the Prime Ministers press secretary Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi, swears so much and so creatively he has achieved iconic status in Britain.
"Look, the Prime Minister of this country he's not an (expletive) Viking, is he? He doesn't drink blood," he tells Simon Foster at one point. "He doesn't go around biting tramps."
"I know the Prime Minister isn't a Viking," Foster protests.
"Unlike me, he abhors physical violence," Tucker says menacingly.
"We did do swearing research," Iannucci said.
Armando Iannucci said he ands his team found that, despite what we might want to believe, centers of power are often centers of bad language.
"In Downing Street there is a lot of swearing," he said. "In the White house there's a lot of swearing, I mean you now have Rahm Emmanuel who is a notorious swearer."
Interestingly, Iannucci said this was the one area they couldn't improvise.
"Because you have to get it absolutely right," he said. "For it to trip off the tongue with such vigor and speed you have to have it all learned, all written down and learned syllable for syllable."
However he has done it, the result clearly appeals to audiences. While the film opened on a small number of theaters last week, "In the Loop" broke attendance records wherever it screened.
Now, Armando Iannucci, having made his screwball comedy, said he's moving on to slapstick - with car chases.
- Morning Edition, 07/31/2009, 7:45 a.m.