I can’t really think of any way to approach In the Loop except by way of the obvious comparison, so here it is: it’s The Office meets Dr. Strangelove. This film, a political farce filled with smart performances and rich profanity in service of both hilarity and despair, borrows its fly-on-the-wall schtick from The Office (either version, take your pick), but elevates the phony vérité strategy by transposing the action from the television show’s cubicles of inconsequence to the very halls of power. Taking place among mostly unsung functionaries in the governments of Great Britain and the United States in the lead-up to the invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, it never attempts to scale the boldly satirical heights of Dr. Strangelove, or to emulate that film’s depictions of megalomania and insanity as catalysts for war. But it is unfailingly witty in its speculation that international aggression isn’t driven by mania as much as facilitated by banality — the case for war as the unwitting spawn of so much interpersonal dick-waving.
In the opening shot of Hunger, a small army of protesters — hunger-strikers, perhaps — is bringing the noise by banging empty soup bowls loudly against the ground. That scene is followed, lyrically, by a scene depicting an older, staid-looking gentleman eating his breakfast, tiny crumbs tumbling from his fork onto the napkin tucked away on his lap and then getting brushed away. He heads out to his car, looks up and down the street, and then falls to his knees and peers carefully at the car’s undercarriage before opening the door and getting in. His wife watches from the front-room window, the tension on her face easing slightly as the car roars to life and her husband drives away. This man turns out to be a guard at a prison in Northern Ireland. We see this man washing blood from his knuckles, which have been torn raw by the force of some blunt impact. It’s only later that we’re shown the sadistic behavior that earned him those scars. In a scene that toys with an audience’s mounting sense of dread, we see him taking a smoke break outside the prison walls, enjoying the tactile sensation of a light snowfall before heading back inside to do, we suspect, his worst. It’s a tense, expertly fraught study in contrasts that dramatizes the difference between the haves and the have-nots — the fed and the hungry.
Notably only for a first act that credibly depicts a three-way — and, eventually, four-way — relationship among friends and lovers without tilting embarrassingly toward titillation and/or soap opera, the blandly titled The Edge of Love is only incidentally a Dylan Thomas biopic. Welshman Matthew Rhys (currently on American television in Brothers & Sisters) plays the poet, and although the film draws on Thomas’ writings in voiceover (some of them the famous archival recordings in the poet’s own voice), he’s never the center of the drama. The film opens close in on a shot of Keira Knightley, playing Vera Phillips, a singer in a London nightclub during World War II. She meets Thomas, apparently an old childhood friend, and is charmed — but surprised when the poet’s wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller), arrives on the scene. The three of them — starving artist, wife and, perhaps, muse — move in under one roof. Vera also catches the eye of William Killick (Cillian Murphy), a good-looking but perhaps too earnest solider who’s preparing to return to the front lines, and would like to take a wife before he goes back. She agrees, which makes Killick forever a member of this dysfunctional group.