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'The Death of Stalin' makes fools of those in power after the Soviet general's death

Wit and superb casting make this raucous dark comedy shine.

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  • | 11:58 p.m. April 4, 2018
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When a film is banned in Russia it deserves attention, especially these days. "The Death of Stalin" has that unique distinction and delivers the goods with rapier wit and superb casting.

In 1953, Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) unexpectedly drops dead and immediately the power grab ensues. As Stalin lies on the floor in a puddle of his own urine, one of the Council of Ministers insists upon calling a doctor. Another answers, "All the best doctors are in the gulag or dead." Seems Stalin has shot himself in the foot, so to say.

Those vying to replace the murderous dictator include: Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Molotov (Michael Palin). It's difficult to ascertain who's the biggest buffoon as they argue amongst themselves But keep in mind, they're also ruthless thugs who will stop at nothing to prevail.

Family members are also concerned about who will fill Stalin's shoes, in that it could mean life or death for them. Alcoholic son, Vasily (Rupert Friend), is out of control and tosses about chanting "or I'll have you killed" like it's an everyday expression, but he's not kidding. And daughter, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), appears to be genuinely disraught over her father's death. But we soon learn that she is really worried about her survival.

It's a circus, full of clowns. Writer-director Armando Iannucci ("In the Loop" & TV"s "Veep") walks a fine line in this raucous, very dark comedy. There are some extremely disturbing visuals and language being used which border on off-putting. Bullets to the head, a burning body and insinuated rapes are difficult to witness and stand in dark contrast to the humorous remarks. The writing is biting, but the scoring is soaring and the cinematography is sumptuous. And there's a glorious performance by Jason Isaacs as an outlandish bemedaled Soviet general.

"The Death of Stalin" most certainly makes fools of those in power after his death. And it's easy to understand how Russia finds the film highly offensive. But the movie gives pause for concern when those in power can quell free speech. Pay heed.   


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