Fantastic Fest Review: The Death of Stalin makes communism funny again
Who would have guessed the timeliest film of the year would involve Russians and a dictator?
As I was entering the theater and sitting down for Fantastic Fest’s big secret screening, rumors where pouring in. Was it going to be Blade Runner 2049? Shape of the Water? The Last Jedi? It had to be a genre film, right? Well, we certainly were surprised, what we got was the funniest, and most cathartic film of the year so far because as director Armando Iannucci said during a Q&A “at least the dictator dies in this one”.
The Death of Stalin truly proves that reality is stranger than fiction. From the opening scene we enter a world so absurd, so illogical you will doubt any of it is real. But it happened. Most of it, anyway. A guy having to bribe people into staying at a concert house so they can play the entire concert again so Stalin gets a recording of it is hilarious, but also frightening because of the power involved. Iannucci takes us right into the world of his most mean-spirited comedy yet.
It is bleak, it is dark, but you will laugh until tears go down your face.
You know what the film is about because 1) It is history. And 2) The title gives it away. We are thrown right into the last days before the Soviet dictator dies unceremoniously, and his top government officials are left trying to pick up the pieces while plotting against each other to take control of the country.
The Death of Stalin is inhabited by crazy characters, and Iannucci got a film full of powerhouse performances, each one funnier and more insane than the last. From Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, to Michael Palin as Vyancheslav Molotov, to Jason Isaacs having the absolute best character introduction of the year – he is loving his role and you can feel it.
But the highlight of the film is the incredible Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev. This is Buscemi unleashed, and the man takes the part of the quiet, kind of goofy guy than will someday stab everyone in the back and absolutely runs with it.
This is a beautifully made film. Zac Nicholson shoots the film as to make every single building as majestic as possible. A funeral for a dictator is a thing to behold, and even the quiet, intimate scenes where two people are just talking is awe-inspiring.
You know anything Armando Iannucci does is going to be funny, but The Death of Stalin knocks it out of the park. The script is air-tight, the dialogue is razor sharp and every single joke lands with perfect timing. I was grasping for air during most of the film, and some of the lines were hard to hear because the entire theater was bursting in laughter.
The Death of Stalin is absolutely a film worth watching in a theater. It is a film we need right now, with amazing performances and stunning cinematography. Prepare to quote this film for a long time. Who know communism could be so much fun?