Review: Clever hijinks ensue in politcal satire THE DEATH OF STALIN

April 1, 2018

Courtesy of IFC Films

Laughs come fast and relentlessly in Armando Iannucci's political satire "The Death of Stalin" which is, storywise, exactly how it sounds. Taking place at the center of Russian politics (how timely) the film is set in early 1953, during the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of Stalin's final hours. Then the boogaloo of committee members - Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, and Paul Chahidi - to name a few, must decide the best way to lead the country and what transpires is a battle of wits, insults, and rigorously pitch perfect quips that zing everytime they're heard. Picture classics like: The Marx Brothers "Duck Soup" or Abbott and Costello as the inspiration for some of these set pieces.

 

Buscemi, who basically is just himself in everything, is given his best role in years as acting general secretary Nikita Khrushchev that's fighting for supremacy with fellow comrade Lavrentiy Beria (Beale) on the status quo, which results in some snarky hijinks. The best sequence involves the clan trying to find a doctor to treat Stalin's condition, except they can't find a "good" doctor, because they killed them all. "All in favor of getting a bad doctor?" one of them asks. Seeing these adults act like children in favor of discussing actual policies is what drives the picture, and it works.

 

Among others, Jason Isaacs steals big laughs as Field Marshal Zhukov a gun hungry captain of the Soviet Army and Rupert Friend as Vasily (Stalin's son and a repressed alcoholic) who wants to give a speech at his dad's funeral. Wherever you look, Iannucci manages to fill his frame with some type of conflict or battle royale worthy of the directors filmography.

 

"The Death of Stalin" can be a primitive example of an earnest political comedy without any manners and one that's effectively acted, written and timed. Granted, the jargon flies so quickly it can be easy to miss, yet the punchlines about our nation's current political climate (and the motherland) is a swoon victory onto itself.   

 

Grade: A-

 

Rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual references

Runtime: 1 hr and 47 minutes

 

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