Monday, July 9, 2018

The Death of Stalin

Very often, comedy comes from tragedy. The Death of Stalin is an unusual film. The political satire set during the days immediately before and after Joseph Stalin's (Adrian McLoughlin) death in Russia, the film follows the infighting and backstabbing among Stalin's most loyal subordinates who maneuver to control Russia following the party leader's death.

Rather than assemble a Russian cast, director Armando Iannucci brings together a group of primarily English and American actors (including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, and Michael Palin), allowing each to perform in his natural accent. The result only increases the absurdity of the proceedings which is counter-balanced by the darkness of Stalin's policies.

While being one of my favorite forms of comedy, satire is hard which is the reason so few are made compared to the glut of physical and romantic comedies. Part satire, part political drama, and part farce, The Death of Stalin is an amazing and improbable piece of filmmaking that must be seen to be believed.

From the opening scene where an exasperated Tom Brooke is forced to go to great lengths to get the orchestra to perform a second time in one night in order to provide a recording for Stalin (who didn't demand it until after the performance was finished) to the sophomoric buffoonery of Stalin's subordinates standing over their boss' body while squabbling how they might find the best bad doctor (it seems all the good ones have been killed by Stalin's death squads) to examine him, the film's absurdity bubbles out of its dark setting as characters never quite escape the fear of Stalin's looming shadow. The results aren't always laugh-out-loud funny, by they are nonetheless immensely amusing to behold.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray, extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, photo galleries, trailers, and commentary from director Armando Iannucci.

[Paramount, $14.99]

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