'The Death of Stalin' Is Perfectly Crafted Satire
From the first moments of Armando Iannucci’s masterful political satire The Death of Stalin, I became painfully aware of what’s lacking from American cinema these days. While I definitely appreciate that audiences enjoy the works of Judd Apatow or Paul Feig, there are only so many stoner-comedies I can handle before I start to yearn for something more from the genre. It makes sense then that a return to form of properly smart comedy should come from Iannucci, who has been making waves these past years in television with his widely acclaimed show Veep. With the help of an unbelievably talented cast, including Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), and Andrea Riseborough (Birdman), this film takes on its rather bold task of trivializing and highlighting the horrors of Soviet politics with an impressive ease and style.
The plot of the film starts off rather simple, but the characters and elements at play quickly expand, overlap, and grow more complex, absorbing the viewer into a web of insanity that’s only possible in the upper echelons of political society. After a perfectly written introduction involving the workers at Radio Moscow scrambling to re-record a Mozart recital for their despotic leader Stalin, we’re quickly introduced to Stalin’s Central Committee, comprised of such names as Nikita Khrushchev and Vyacheslav Molotov. Shortly in, as the title of the film suggests, Stalin dies unexpectedly, and what follows are 107 minutes of hilarious ineptitude and horrifying Machiavellianism that somehow mesh perfectly. Alliances are broken and formed, committee meetings are awkwardly held, and an alarming (but historically appropriate) amount of people are murdered. The magic in the film is the delicate balance between crafting a quirky and ever-moving character comedy, while still portraying the true evil and chaos that came out of Stalinist Socialism.
Like any quality satire, all the elements of this film are top notch, with strong lighting and set design standing out to me. Just as when I first watched In Bruges, I will have to go back and watch this film several more times, first to analyze the amazing jokes and dialogue, and later to absorb the chilling score and snappy editing. Lastly, I want to highlight Steve Buscemi’s performance as Nikita Khrushchev, as it might be one of my favorite character arcs in recent times. While arguably none of the Soviet leaders were good people in any right, a film needs a protagonist, and Buscemi’s role serves as such. Watching Khrushchev desperately try to get Stalin’s council and family to back him politically is incredibly amusing, made even better by Buscemi’s quirky appearance and New York accent. Moments where he has one on one conversations with other cast members like Tambor are a match made in casting heaven, and by the end of the film I was surprised by how full of an arc Khrushchev had. The Death of Stalin is a truly special film, and I highly recommend everyone see it in theaters, if anything to support such a biting and smart comedy. While 2018 still has plenty of time to impress, I have to say that it’s already been a solid year, with films such as Annihilation setting the bar high. That being said, The Death of Stalin will be a tough one to beat, and will hold a special place for me personally as a comedic feat.