• by Wes Singleton

The Death of Stalin, B

Rated R, 107 minutes

The dark comedy "The Death of Stalin" takes a satirical look at Stalinism, but it's about more than politics, but the power struggle that often occurs in high-level circles. Filled with a game, top-notch comedic cast, it's funnier than you might think given its subject (which is not a laughing matter) though not everything is perfectly executed.

Moscow, 1953: when tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin drops dead, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweeby Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the wily Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the sadistic secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). But as they bumble, brawl, and backstab their way to the top, just who is running the government?

The amusing political satire "The Death of Stalin" is directed and co-written by "Veep" creator Armando Iannucci, who writes the screenplay with David Schneider, Ian Martin and David Fellows and is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nury and Robin Thierry. It's made better by the entertaining all-star cast, all of whom get in a good scene or two as Stalin's inner circle trying to stake a claim on the Russian political empire.

Never mind the historical license "Death of Stalin" takes, there are a few fun scenes to be had, even with something like Stalinism, which inherently is not (and is still not even after seeing the movie) funny, but there is fun to be had with the power struggle; Tambor is terrific as the nerdy, weak Malenkov who's overly concerned with his image, Buscemi perfectly cast as the weasily Khrushchev, who is played as a car salesman-type, while Beale has some good fun as the bossy Beria.

As good as the cast is, there is still a level of awkwardness about it, some of it makes you uneasy, particularly scenes of violence, death and imprisonment, none of which exactly strikes as being uproarious. That said, some of "Stalin" is a little uneven, but most of it works well. And yes, Iannucci himself has said this is all based on fact and even toned down from what originally happened.

Flaws and all, "The Death of Stalin" is a fun watch, and Iannucci, with his "Veep" experience, seems to be an expert at political satire, even something unconventional as this.

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