In the Loop is a quick-witted political satire from a group of Brits who do a TV show called The Thick of It (haven’t seen it, but have heard it’s equally funny). The movie has a bevy of well-drawn caricatures, but centers around a wishy-washy cabinet minister named Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) and his ambitious young aide Toby (Chris Addison). When Foster says in a radio interview that war is “unforeseeable,” he raises the ire of communications director and general political enforcer Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Tucker pressures Foster tries “row back” on the ‘unforeseeable’ line, taken by many to mean he is against a brewing war in a Middle Eastern country (read Iraq). Confronted by TV reporters demanding him to explain, Foster says that sometimes it is necessary to “climb the mountain of conflict.”

This puts him between two US State Department officials, the dovish Linda Clark (Mimi Kennedy) and the hawkish Linton Barwick (David Rasche) who each want to use Foster to their own ends. When put on the spot in a committee meeting as to whether war is unforeseeable or it is necessary to climb the mountain of conflict, Foster offers the inconclusive and hilarious bromide that it is “difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.” You’ll have to see the movie to understand why this is so funny.

Meanwhile, an anti-war fact-finding paper written by Linda Clark’s aide Liza Weld (Anna Chlumpsky) with the acronym PWIPPIP has been making the rounds in Washington, threatening to expose the flimsy pretenses for war even as a vote is about to occur in the UN Security Council. It’s going to come down to the wire, with a lot of backstage political gamesmanship and even some sex thrown in.

The supporting performances are all spot-on, but Peter Capaldi is obscenely good as the foul-mouthed Malcolm, riding through the movie on a string of creative threats and showing surprising vulnerability when he is double-crossed by the Americans. I also love Steve Coogan’s cameo, which I won’t spoil by describing.

The movie gets so much of the depiction of modern international politics right. The Americans are underestimated by the British but ultimately become unwitting ‘lapdogs’ and spreaders of ‘sexed-up’ intelligence. It would be preposterous, if it wasn’t all based on real events. (For “Iceman” read “Curveball”.) No doubt this movie will go right over the heads of many who weren’t paying attention to what was going on in politics in the ramp up to the Iraq War.

But intelligent moviegoers owe it to themselves to check out In the Loop, which manages to transmute that tragedy into some comedic gold.