Cast: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, David Rasche
Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche)
SUMMARY: In Britain, Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) states on a talk show that military intervention in the Middle East is “unforeseeable”. This angers the Prime Minister, who is considering (along with the U.S.) an invasion. He sends his Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) to deal with Foster; Tucker tells Foster that he is to “toe the line” of military intervention, neither confirming nor denying. Inside Foster’s office, Toby Wright (Chris Addison) has just been hired as an aide. Toby is living with Suzy, who works for the Foreign Office, and with her help he gets the now slightly infamous Foster into one of their meetings. Also at the meeting is the US Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clarke. Clarke is anti-war, and during the meeting brings up a report by her assistant Liza Weld that investigates the pros and cons of war — and finds many more cons. The report brings up that the only real source of intelligence in the Middle East is from an informant called “Iceman”, and that this intelligence cannot be confirmed. During the discussion, another politician brings up a secret “war committee” that is being run by US Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche). Clarke is incensed, and instructs Liza to find out about the committee. After the meeting ends, Foster leaves the building and is ambused by paparazzi; he compounds his earlier gaffe by now hinting that a war is coming. Clarke and Liza return to the States, and Liza is able to find out the official name and meeting time of the war committee. Clarke also brings in General George Miller (James Gandolfini), a powerful Washington force who does not think the U.S. will be able to win a war. Clarke wants to get Foster on the war committee, since both his nationality and opposition would increase anti-war sentiment.
Foster is invited to the next meeting; he brings along Toby, who has become something of a clueless yes-man. While in Washington, Toby reconnects with a friend at CNN and brags about his current position. The news of the committee is then leaked on TV, so when it meets the next day, a huge crowd shows up. Unfortunately, Barwick is able to maneuver through without disclosing any important details. At the same time, Malcolm is in Washington. He meets with Barwick, who informs him that without British intelligence on the Middle East, he will not be able to sway the vote towards invasion. Foster and Toby return to the UK, but continue to be beset by problems. In a meeting with his constituents, Foster is faced with the problem of a collapsing wall (that belongs to Foster’s office). The UN suddenly prepares to vote on the invasion issue, and Foster is invited by the Prime Minister. To try to defuse some of his problems, Foster talks about resigning if the UN votes for invasion, but he doesn’t really intend to do this. Unfortunately the press prints the story, and Foster’s stand against the UN becomes news. While the UN is in discussion, Malcolm hears that Liza’s paper, the anti-war one, has been leaked to the press; this means that the UN is liable to veto the invasion. To prevent the UN from learning about the paper, Malcolm gets the meeting pushed up, but is then told by Barwick that he must have the British intelligence to win the vote. A desperate Malcolm blackmails the source of the leak, Suzy’s boss at the Foreign Office, into changing the report so that it is pro-war and cites another source. The committee ultimately votes in favor of invasion. Foster intends to resign, but a vindictive Malcolm instead gets him fired over the collapsing-wall issue. Karen Clarke also resigns; Miller stated his intention to also resign, but ultimately decides not to do so.
MY TAKE: First, let me say that this is a funny movie. There’s a ton of absolutely hysterical one-liners, particularly from Malcolm and Karen Clarke. Malcolm swears every other word, but those non-cuss words are venomous (and funny). However, it is a confusing movie. I had to read the Wikipedia summary a few times after watching it to finally figure out what was going on. It doesn’t seem all that complicated at first, but there are so many characters and so much frantic talking that it gets hard to follow as the film progresses. Basically, the U.S. and Britain are thinking of (and leaning towards) intervention in the Middle East. When a bumbling minor official denies this, he inadvertently starts a firestorm. Other officials, particularly American ones, from both sides of the fence (since he keeps changing his statement) think that they can use him to further their cause. Malcolm, apparently the Prime Minister’s right-hand-man, tries to mitigate all the damage done by Foster and keep things in line with what the Prime Minister wants. Ultimately, he achieves this, although I don’t think you’ll be rooting for him by the time that happens. It’s one of those things where everybody knows what will happen, but you still hope otherwise. I think a big problem with the film is that there are too many characters, although the fact that half of them are British does help you distinguish somewhat. It’s also a very fast-paced movie with fast-talking characters, so you don’t have time to let things sink in, or to ponder them. It makes sense to me in hindsight, but it was hard to tell what was happening while I was watching. It is funny, though, even if you don’t really get what’s happening.
RATING: Funny but confusing.