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A comment I see in my line of writing/work is that people want politics to stay out of their video games, shows, and movies. Well, hate to be that guy, but politics are in everything. Every artistic decision has some kind of leaning or belief behind it. You literally can’t escape it, and there is nowhere to go when you are watching a political comedy. These are films that I tend to not really want to watch, because I want to be engaged with the jokes, the writing, the characters, and the story. Yes, I’m expecting a political point of view in the writing and directing, but if that’s all I’m seeing, then you are going to simply get labeled as propaganda, which sadly happens more than you would think. Thankfully, I recently watched a really funny comedy that I wish more people could see, The Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci.
It’s the 1950s, and the tyrannical Stalin, played by Adrian McLoughlin, is the big cheese in Russia. Well, that is until he has a stroke and falls to the ground dead as a door nail. This causes all of his close personal co-workers/friends, like Nikita Khruschev, played by Steve Buscemi, Laverntiy Beria, played by Simon Russell Beale, Vyacheslav Molotov, played by Michael Palin, Gorgy Malenkov, played by Jeffery Tambor, and so on, to panic. I mean, their leader is dead! It then becomes this mad dash to see who becomes the leader of Russia, who get what position of power, and who they need to sway to get on their good side. Let’s just say that this leads to some clever and well-written shenanigans.
I think what really gels about this film is how its political comedy works, and how the film survives as its own comedy. I mean, what’s funnier than to see a tyrannical government lose its head like a chicken, and run around in a panic, as they all try to get ahead of one another and backstab whoever in order to get the job done? I mean, yes, a lot of what people have said is true, that the buffoonery from the entire committee is very telling in how it mirrors our current political climate, but even if you took that part out, it’s still really funny. I mean, it’s almost too comical in how obvious they are trying to get ahead of one another, trying to make sure they still get their nice seat on the committee, and not end up on one of the infamous kill lists. Another aspect of the comedy I liked is that it also has other bits of humor, like having little background gags from time to time. This film has probably the most consistent laughs that I have seen in a comedy from 2018. Everyone delivers great lines, there are fantastic performances, and it finds a way to balance out the laughs and the fact that these are people who have done some unquestionably horrible things. It does not shy away from the fact that this government has kept their people under an iron fist, and have either banished, tortured, or killed whoever they needed.
I like the actors chosen for the roles. While I definitely love Steve Buscemi as the calm-headed middle man, Simon Russell Beale as the power hungry individual, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s constantly drunk son, Jeffery Tambor as the bumbling incompetent right hand, and a lot of the major cast, I have to pinpoint that the best character in the film was Jason Isaacs as Georgy Shukov. Isaacs plays this macho foul-tempered man, and he steals every scene that he is in. He has the best lines, the best introduction to his character, and it was simply fun to see Jason Isaacs again. Really, the best thing about this film is that everyone had a good role, a funny line, a humorous sequence, and no one felt like dead weight or was unnecessary.
My one major complaint about the film is that the last third, while still entertaining, doesn’t balance out the comedy and drama as well as the first two-thirds of the film. It tends to lean more on the dramatic side of things, and while I definitely understand why the film went that way, I wish it was more like the first two-thirds. Then again, when you are about to cause a mutiny with one of your longest standing co-workers, filling out the sequence with jokes probably would have been in bad taste. I almost forgot to put this in, but after what has been going on in Hollywood, it is awkward to see Jeffery Tambor in the film. He’s funny and he plays his part well, but like TJ Miller in Ready Player One, it’s unfortunate timing to be seeing him in this film.
I really loved The Death of Stalin. It was a comedy I was not expecting to enjoy, and it was a film I came out of smiling from ear to ear. Unlike some comedies, I think The Death of Stalin will still hold up years from now. While it can definitely be connected to our current political climate, with who’s in office and our conflict with Russia, I feel like you can take the film and place it during different points in history, and somehow find a way to connect the characters and actions to certain points in time. I have seen this twice as of writing this review, and I definitely will want to see it again. It’s a political comedy that aims for a home run, and hits it out of the park. You will definitely want to play it again!