Smallness is something a good actor can use, and as played by the extraordinarily meek Tom Hollander (who seems approximately two feet shorter than everyone else), the minor British minister Simon Foster is like dinner to the savage operators of the profanely funny In the Loop. Simon warbles uncertainly on the radio; younger aides compare him to poultry. Later, he is a “prime cut” of meat. One thing he is not: capable of independent thought. “No, you do not think that!” one vexed publicist screams upon hearing Simon stumble into trouble.
In the Loop is a spin movie, and as such, feels a little late with its Rumsfeldian verbal evasions and march to unsubstantiated war, as spurred by Simon’s casual comment. (Director Armando Iannucci’s original 2005 BBC show, The Thick of It, on which this material is largely based, is much sharper.) But there are enjoyable revelations. Who knew that British pols were as Rovian as Republican backroom brawlers? As with Robert Altman’s brilliant The Player, the movie operates on a subtle kind of audience flattery, welcoming us to the real deal behind the issues—which turns out to be a shouty, catty competition.
But you don’t mind the curdled cynicism when it lets James Gandolfini puff out his chest as a sharklike U.S. general straight from Dr. Strangelove. Our minister hero finds his way to Washington, in thrall of his hotel’s room service more than the brewing crucible of misunderstandings. This is Doonesbury-deep satire, but you wouldn’t want to start a fight with
the Scottish Peter Capaldi, as a ferocious British flack. His tirades are glorious.