Iannucci’s latest film brings light to a dark time

By LUIS CURIEL | April 5, 2018

GABBOT/CC BY-SA 2.0 Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khruschev in Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin.

If you’re a fan of political satire, the era we currently find ourselves in is probably one that makes you laugh — but also worry. From the headlines to the tweets, you can’t help but wonder if the meta-aspect of it all is lost amongst the very people involved in it. After the rise of House Of Cards, the idea that those in charge of the government were Machiavellian became prevalent, particularly in the U.S. 

However, across the pond The Thick of It, a show that followed the inner workings of British politics, showed audiences the exact opposite. The people in charge are just as incompetent as you are and sometimes worse than you’d hope. 

The creator of The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci, is also responsible for an American show that satirizes the inner workings of government: Veep, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President and follows her attempts to do the best with what she can. The show is on HBO and is worth the watch; we even get a cameo of our very own Charles Commons in the first episode. The show is a nice contrast from the cynicism of House of Cards, and Iannucci’s keen eye for humor is always a delight. 

Even so, when it was announced that Iannucci would be writing and directing a film called The Death of Stalin, which covers the aftermath of Joseph Stalin’s death and the rise of Nikita Khrushchev as his successor, questions were raised about how far the satire could go. 

Fortunately, the humor is handled well, and Iannucci blends it with the horror of the Soviet regime in a way that doesn’t lessen any of the atrocities that occurred under Stalin’s regime. 

As a matter of fact, the biggest laughs come from poking fun at the aspects of Soviet powermongering that parallel the current political atmosphere here in the United States. It’s a story of a bunch of power-hungry fools manipulating information, trying to one up each other while not giving a shit about what is best for their constituency. 

The Death of Stalin features a cast full of acting veterans: Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev and Simon Russell Beale playing Lavrenti Beria, but none of the main characters are Russian. They don’t even try to speak with a Russian accent. 

Buscemi’s all too familiar voice permeates the screen. It’s an intentional move that serves as a reminder of the absurdity of the situation at hand. The dialogue, as with almost all satire, is vulgar and brash, but it’s also eloquent. It pulls you in and the impeccable delivery from the cast is sure to make you laugh. 

However, not every bit has the desired effect. There are certain moments in which the expected response is supposed to be disgust, but they don’t play with the rest of the film. The historical inaccuracies also play a bit into the problems that the film has, but this isn’t a biopic. It’s a film meant to emphasize the horrors of the Soviet Union and how those in power only cared about themselves. 

In addition to the film’s occasional misplaced punch lines, the presence of Jeffrey Tambor is a bit uncomfortable considering the seriousness of the allegations raised against him. Replacing him wasn’t possible considering the film was shot in 2016, but his character (who, to put it lightly, is a toned-up beta male whose only purpose is to be manipulated by the other members of the politburo), is treated with enough contempt to partially make up for his presence. (He has been erased from promotional material.) 

The Death of Stalin is a fun film that isn’t afraid to use absurdity to make it’s point. The performances allow you to feel engaged, while the dialogue helps us understand how terrible these people were. 

Although the film does have its occasional bad joke and doesn’t do anything revolutionary in terms of execution, it succeeds at what it tries to do. Stalin was a dictator, and those closest to him, as well as Stalin himself, deemed their people expendable all in an effort to rise the ranks. 

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