I’m seriously inclined to begin this review with a political screed. This movie carefully avoids any direct connection to actual events, however, so I suppose I should, too.
The story concerns a young new aide to the British Minister of State. The minister has just put his foot in it by saying that “war is unforeseeable”. And then, trying to fix things, follows up with something like “to walk the road of peace you must sometimes climb the mountain of conflict.”
This is a dry, wry and cutting movie, with quite a few laughs as the government of two nations (the UK and the USA) are shown to run by cowardly, self-involved incompetents who play petty games with each other and who generally put their goals ahead of what those goals might result in.
There’s a great cast, including Torchwood’s Peter Capaldi as a vicious agent of—well, I’m never actually sure who he worked for, Tom Hollander (who antagonized Keira Knightly in both Pride and Prejudice and The Pirates of the Caribbean) as the self-involved but ultimately well-meaning minister, MirrorMask’s Gina McKee as his assistant, and writer/actor Chris Addison as the young, new assistant. (He’s 37, but he doesn’t look it.) The great Steve Coogan (recently in the Night at the Museum sequel) has a part, too.
The first 20 minutes of this movie may be hard for you to understand. If, like me, it takes you about that long to be able to adapt to a mishmash of English and Scottish accents—the latter being both thick, and fast with some of the cutest swearing you’ll ever hear. It’s nasty, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but smile when I hear “fook” and “shite” and “koont”. I would’ve gotten a lot more out of it they’d chosen a clearer sound: It’s all very organic, having people talking over each other; talking over each other with thick accents and a kind of muddiness makes things hard to parse.
The Americans are easier to understand. (For me, that is. You native English and Scots may have a hard time with them. But fook you.) They include Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini as the ultra-violent anti-war general and Mimi Kennedy, who’s probably best known as Dharma’s mom. (I kept thinking it was Alison LaPlaca and that she looked really old, but for Mimi Kennedy she was looking pretty young.) David Rasche, whose breakthrough was the short-lived “Sledge Hammer!” TV series, has happily managed to break that “type”, playing a hard-nosed (right-wing?) clean-mouthed politico.
The jokes, the sarcasm, the verbal irony and scathing wit fly fast and furious. And when you can catch it, it’s pretty dang funny. The cinéma vérité isn’t overdone, and it’s not boring.
And yet, it falls short of being great satire. It starts as appropriately harsh condemnation of political figures, but by the third act, dramatic irony is sacrificed on the altar of an earnest condemnation of that classic demon, rushing to war with bad intelligence. The bad guys—as they are clearly defined by this time—are just all-fired hot to have themselves a war, and completely willing to subvert an intelligence report to get one.
Why? Who knows? Who cares? Just run with it. Just fill in Evil W and Dick Cheney and their lapdog Blair and an entertaining satire gets bogged down in its own attempt to be significant. This pissed me off because it’s one of the stupider shibboleths of the left about Iraq: Yet that had to be the longest rush to war in modern times, with the topic under debate for over a decade.
That might bug you a lot less than it does me, but there’s really nothing else to hang on to. You could say they weren’t being specific so as to not make a political point, and then you’re left with a bad drama where the bad guys are so bad they’ll blatantly commit serious crimes—right out in the open!—for the sole purpose of starting a war. We don’t even get a nod to Stupid-Evil Economic Theory (see Gary Oldman’s “broken windows” speech in The Fifth Element).
Just random evil for the sake of random evil. Aided by a whole lot of feckless sorta-good. Satire becomes cynicism. Just to put this in perspective, imagine Network if the network killed Howard Beale for no reason. Or Very Bad Things if the “heroes” had just gone on a killing spree. Harold and Maude if Harold killed Maude, or The Ladykillers without the heist.
Epic black comedy fail. Assuming that was the intention of course. A really good black comedy—and one with the ring of truth—would have had the two sides switching by the end of the movie on the basis of some sort of election or polling result.
The Boy liked it, though he had an even harder time making out the dialogue than I did. Plus, there were references to “old stuff” I know he missed.
Recommend it? Depends on how much you agree with or are annoyed by implicit reinforcements of anti-war dogma—I mean, it’s not like we’ll ever see a movie about The Rush To Healthcare or The Rush To Cap-and-Trade—and whether you’re good at parsing out thick accents all talking at once.