THE DEATH OF STALIN: comedy darker than the night (FILM REVIEW)

by Jed Bookout 0

Courtesy IFC

One of my favorite things to think about is the eventual movie that is going to be made about the Trump administration. A presidency that seemingly occurred on accident consisting of many mean yet possibly incompetent white people, it seems like it will be a script made in Heaven and cast down just so the Coen brothers can direct it. The Coens specialize in these kind of haphazard hijinks stories, whether portraying the kidnapping of a well-off child (Raising Arizona) or the story of political idiots losing intel to even bigger idiots (Burn After Reading). What the Coens could do with a story like Trump’s is perhaps most comparable to what Armando Iannucci has done with The Death of Stalin.

Courtesy IFC
Courtesy IFC

Banned in Russia and limited in release stateside, Iannucci’s latest is the true story of the political vacuum created in the Soviet Union by the death of Joseph Stalin. The death of an infamous leader in a time of political uncertainty isn’t exactly something that would seem to lend itself to comedy, but Iannucci’s film (which he also scripted) is as bleak and well-worded as Preston Sturges writing obituaries. The central committee all try to position themselves as the smartest men in the room, but are often treated just as much of a joke as the executions occurring in the background of almost every scene. If you’re looking for a light time with the family, Life of the Party this is not.

One of Iannucci’s more interesting stylistic choices is for every character to perversely speak the dialogue in English, as well as in their native accents. The outstanding production design bringing 1950s Moscow to life gives this film the illusion of a much grander, more dramatic film than we are given; the moment Steve Buscemi opens his mouth, you know exactly the sort of film you’re getting yourself into. Did I mention that Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev? That’s not a typo. Buscemi is essentially bringing his best here as the Russian Walter White, going from the man the committee bullies into planning Stalin’s funeral to the key figure in the assassination of Lavrentiy Beria (played with fully snake-ish glee by Simon Russell Beale), eventually becoming the leader of the Soviet Union himself.

Courtesy IFC
Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev

The Death of Stalin plays fast and loose with history, often choosing to let the ridiculousness of these men without a central plan paint the scenery more than any kind of dedication to history. It is very funny, very grim, and will surely go down as more than just a peculiar curio in the careers of all involved. If anything, it just shows us that we’re going to need that Trump biopic much sooner than later.

The Death of Stalin is in theaters now, and can be seen here and here.

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