The Death of Stalin (2018)
The Oscar nominated In the Loop, a modern political satire with acclaimed performances from Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi and The Soprano’s James Gandolfini, slipped in the 2009 adapted screenplay lineup filled with a slate of best picture nominees. Growing with popularity through their successful HBO comedy Veep, the team of director Armando Iannucci and co-writers David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows adapt Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s graphic novel The Death of Stalin into a rolicking tour of instability and hysterical incredulity following the dictator’s death.
As a selection of high ranking Stalin cronies determine that their own dreams of Russia’s future create the greatest dash for the prize since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, though in this case, it’s for the soul of the country. Steve Buscemi, a reformist Nikita Khrushchev, and Simon Russell Beale as hardened Lavrenti Beria, combat the formality and head games inherent in times of chaos with the Proletariat blubbering over their late fascist father. Iannucci allows his American and British leads, as well as the rest of the cast, to maintain their usual voices; but rather than blending into caricatures of Buscemi’s type, he steps into his most formidable role in ages. He is determined to transition at this moment into the Russia he desires, and he is crafty in his positioning. His final scene relents a formal and succinct delineation of his position in the actions of Stalin’s Russia. It is a striking role. Beale, more expressive through his violent, conniving Beria, presents a villain among villains that leaves him as the imminently dangerous foe in a land still under dictatorship sixty years on.
Iannucci and team finds the tragic irony in their satire. A flash of disasters follow every decision. The banality of handing over funeral rights and cancelling trains ultimately land numerous citizens shot. In a country settled with constant destruction, the wave in Iannucci’s perception allows a societal calamity to center on the antics of men ascertained to their fitness to lead. An essential lesson to the nightmare situation involves the crew finding Stalin drastically ill; rather than summoning doctors, any of the good ones they’d already had killed, they opt to transport the man in a ceremonious precision, each of the characters fulfilling their duties with definable clarity. There’s little I like more than hysteria rendered into charming calamity. The will they or won’t they drop Stalin during their politically savvy banter. The Death of Stalin is a ball of hard hitting fun.