The Death of Stalin
by George Wolf
Opening with a madcap “musical emergency” and closing with a blood-stained political coup, The Death of Stalin infuses its factual base with coal back humor of the most delicious and absurd variety.
The film cements director/co-writer Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop) as a premier satirist, as it plays so giddily with history while constantly poking you with a timeliness that should be shocking but sadly is not.
So many feels are here, none better than the sheer joy of watching this film unfold.
It is Moscow in the 1950s and we meet Josef Stalin and his ruling committee, with nary an actor even attempting a Russian accent. Those British and American dialects set a wonderfully off-kilter vibe.
Iannucci has a confident grip on his vision, and the impeccable cast to see it through,
Who else would play Nikita Khrushchev but Steve Busemi? Then there’s Jeffrey Tambor and Simon Russell Beale as committee members jockeying for power after Stalin’s death, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s manically desperate kids, and Jason Isaacs arriving late to nearly steal the whole show as the uber-manly head of the Russian army.
As enemies lists are updated (“new list!”) and constant assassinations whirl, the hilarious barbs keep coming in dizzying succession, each delivered with bullseye precision by lead actors and walk-ons alike. Monty Python vet Michael Palin is a fitting face in the ensemble, with Iannucci structuring a few bits (like Buscemi and Tambor trying to slyly switch places at Stalin’s funeral-classic) that recall some of the finest Python zaniness.
It all flows so fast and furiously funny, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to pull off such effective satire. We end up laughing through a dark and brutal time in history, while Iannuci speaks truth to those currently in power with a sharp and savage brand of mockery.
Stalin is still dead.
Long live The Death of Stalin!