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TIFF 2017: The Death Of Stalin Review

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Not everyone could take a tragically true string of politically motivated murders that splashed blood all over Moskow following the death of Joseph Stalin and turn it into a comedy. However, not everyone is Armando Iannucci. In fact, he’s likely the only guy who could pull off such an audaciously dark comedy, especially one this ceaselessly hilarious and entertaining. The man who was arguably responsible for creating modern cringe comedy, news satire, and the political sitcom has gone and done something special here. Sure, it’s not for everyone (people who don’t find beautifully creative vulgarity or casual explicit violence hilarious for example), but those on Iannucci’s wavelength will emerge from Death Of Stalin on a giddy high that’s almost impossible to explain or justify. That’s a good thing, by the way. 

The whole goofy and blood-soaked farce kicks off with Joseph Stalin unexpectedly falling dead. Left in his wake are the collection of yes men and enablers whose morality has grown so twisted that they can barely even remember which colleagues are still alive. The likes of Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin, and Jason Isaacs play actual historical figures involved in the bloody mess of power struggle and revenge that followed. Of course, even though Iannucci roughly sticks to the facts, none of them are striving for historical accuracy. The dialogue is foul mouthed and contemporary, the accents are all British or American. It allows for the comedy to strike in ways true to Iannucci and his actors’ voices, but it also suits the satire of the piece. Yes, this is a very specific story, but it’s also an amusingly insane exaggeration of the brand of inhumane backstabbing as well as insecure n’ immature insanity that make up most backdoor politics. 

In that way The Death Of Stalin is actually very much of a peace with Iannucci’s previous political satires like In The Loop or Veep. The difference here is that bodies hit the floor rather than careers hitting the skids (and much of that violence is played as deliberately cold and brutal in the background, rarely trivializing tragedy for giggles). That’s deliberate and stings. Yet at the same time, the comedy would be just as morbidly hilarious for audiences unconcerned with any sort of subtext. This is also just a cleverly plotted bloody mess with some hysterically spicy dialogue.

The Death of Stalin probably the finest and funniest political satire since the last time Armando Iannucci pointed his poison pen at the subject. Hopefully there won’t be too long of a wait before his next one. That guy is great at what he does. Fact. 


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