I didn’t expect to laugh out loud at the story of a communist dictator. But here we are.
The Russian cousin of Jo Jo Rabbit, The Death of Stalin tells the story of Josef Stalin’s demise and the subsequent chaos of planning a funeral and finding his successor. Seasoned satirist and director Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop) brings together a cast of A-list actors who make the antics of Stalin’s right-hand men utterly hilarious.
Like audiences, Stalin (the brilliant Adrian McLoughlin) laughs himself to death. The General Committee of goons, Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), and Laventri Beria (Simon Russell Beale) among others, unite to save their boss. Too bad they’ve sent all the doctors in Moscow to the Gulag. They were traitors, every last one of them.
Beria silently rejoices at the dictator’s death, hoping for a seat on the throne. Malenkov, the General Secretary and official successor, can’t make a decision to save his life, and they are all relieved they won’t have to sit through any more Westerns (Stalin’s actual favorite films!)
While the characters are sometimes hard to keep track of, you almost don’t care. A bunch of masterful comedic actors delivering the brilliant lines of Iannucci’s script and, no doubt, improvising some of the best. This is not Crime and Punishment, and there won’t be a test, though you will likely learn some Russian history along the way.
Don’t shy away from this film, thinking it’s a historical drama. Unlike Taika Waititi’s World War II satire, Iannucci doesn’t build up heartfelt relationships only to give you a punch in the gut in the end. This film is Steve Buscemi as a reluctant funeral director, Jeffrey Tambor in a girdle, and grown men cowering in the shadow of their 5’8” predecessor.
Not to mention it’s banned in Russia. Go nuts.
Gwen Hughes is a seasoned writer and the Editor-in-Chief at Madison Park Living magazine. When she is not working, she enjoys reading short stories, quoting John Mulaney Netflix specials, and eating family-size boxes of Mott’s Fruit Snacks.