Crippling political oppression has never been this fun

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Death of Stalin
Roxy Theatre

Opens Friday 30
4 out of 5

Wondering what would become of Armando Iannucci after leaving Veep? Look no further. The brain behind The Thick of It and In the Loop, is back to mercilessly mock a new institution — in this case, the USSR’s Communist Party during the power struggle following the Joseph Stalin’s death.

In The Death of Stalin, Iannucci goes a little further than usual. Sure, the movie is funny but it’s horrifying all the same. As depicted here, the race to succeed Stalin was a bloody one and we are not spared the disturbing details.

Following the dictator’s demise, the best-positioned to replace the mustachioed mass murderer was Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale, Penny Dreadful), chief of the secret police apparatus. Beria’s callous behaviour rubs the rest of the emergency administration the wrong way and soon a team of rivals (Krushchev, Molotov, Zhukov) targets him although the task is more difficult than it should have been.

Ianucci’s scalpel-sharp dialogue and some brilliant slapstick make The Death of Stalin an unforgiving riot. Actors not known for laughs (Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs) demonstrate killer comic timing, supported by specialists Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin. Everything about this movie works, particularly the depiction of Stalin’s inner circle as a frat house and the paralyzing fear that one wrong word could put you at the wrong end of a firing squad.

Days before the film’s opening in Russia, Putin’s government came up with a cockamamie excuse to block the release. It’s as if Vlad doesn’t want his people to watch a head of state wiping out political enemies with extreme prejudice for his own benefit. Go figure.