Armando Iannucci, veteran writer of “Veep,” understands modern political comedy. His newest effort, “The Death of Stalin,” takes its events from the past, but its themes ring true in the present.
Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale lead the dynamite cast of character actors as Georgy Malenkov, Nikita Kruschev and Lavrentiy Beria, three bureaucrats tasked with picking up the pieces of Russia after Stalin’s death. Each performance is wonderful, delivering delightfully hilarious versions of some of history’s most devious men.
Kruschev takes the film’s lead, though he is not particularly heroic, scrambling to grab power at the cost of Russian lives. Simon Russell Beale is also particularly despicable as Lavrentiy Beria, a cutthroat politician that plays a foil to Buscemi’s Kruschev. Beria’s entire disregard for humanity makes him the most villainous in a film populated entirely by villains. His role in the film deliberately parallels specific politicians in modern America, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree.
The standout performances from the film come from supporting roles. Jason Isaacs as Soviet general Georgy Zhukov and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s large adult son Vasily are laugh-out-loud funny. They're over the top in their roles and shine each time they appear on screen.
Though they play Russians, each member of this insanely talented cast not only speaks English, but with their own native accent. It creates a bizarre, farcical atmosphere for the film from the get-go, and establishes that it is far more concerned with the story it wants to tell than historical accuracy.
It’s fair to wonder how Iannucci preserves this tone with such serious subject matter, and Iannucci does walk a quite thin tightrope to keep the film balanced. The only way he is able to keep it grounded through an angry bite in the film’s dialogue, cutting remarks from each of the film’s characters that remind the audience they’re seeing events that lead to the deaths of thousands.
When asked about these connections in a post-screening Q&A, Iannucci neither confirmed nor denied, but did offer that at least in his story, the corrupt power-grabber dies.
- “The Death of Stalin”
- Rating: Not yet rated
- Runtime: 106 minutes
- Score: 4/5 stars