10 May 2011

In The Loop

I finally got around to seeing this, and I knew I would like it. I have vague memories of critics comparing it to Dr. Strangelove, probably for its depiction of government and war policy as being dictated by petty tension and paranoia between allies. I can see a reason to compare the two (satire of the government which is both outlandish and frighteningly plausible? Overt sexual tension, frustration, and gay panic channeled inappropriately into policymaking? No line between personality quirk and philosophical stance?), but it actually felt more like The Office meets Traffic, or something, to me. It's funniest when it's meanest, which is a lot like being funniest when it's angriest.

I expected, considering the first six minutes or so and Simon's continual similar fuckups throughout, that this was going to quickly turn into a comedy of errors and misunderstandings like some geopolitical Shakespeare farce, and although I was ready to laugh and enjoy just that I'm relieved it didn't go there. Too many coincidental blunders and conveniently misheard mutterings creates a story so tightly wound and artificial that it's hard to sustain itself, a dramatic Rube Goldberg machine. Instead -- apart from main characters Simon and Toby -- In The Loop hinges primarily on petty, small-minded characters lashing out in bitterness or undermining each other through paranoia and the assumption of corruption, deceit, and self-centeredness. It's almost like an answer to Ayn Rand's philosophies in that most of the people here, even the loathsome ones, aren't terrible or evil, but they assume that everyone else is, and that causes them to act terribly or evilly. But mainly it's just satisfying when the characters are driving the story instead of being driven by clever contrivances for ninety minutes.

I know I rant about this very same thing pretty much all the time, but a story driven by its characters means they are making the decisions, means the story matters to them and to us, and means the characters matter and who they are and how they are constructed matters. Otherwise it's just a series of plotpoints, a connect-the-dots, a clever piece of architecture -- or as I just mentioned, a Rube Goldberg machine. A story where the characters matter and the decisions matter that also manages amusing and clever twists and turns and surprises is always going to be more satisfying.

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