Fans of HBO's wonderful Veep will likely find Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin. I urge everyone else to seek this biting, smart and brutally funny film out. While a film based around the sudden death of one of the world's biggest mass murders and the political void it left may not sound like fodder for one of the year's best comedies, I assure you it is.
After the leader's death, aka Uncle Joe, several of his closest committee members find themselves plotting and scheming for leadership roles and to help determine the course of the Soviet Union. There is Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and the sadistic Lavrentiy Baria (Simon Russel Beale in the film's best performance). These are men who have been living under the oppression and power of Stalin and who are now nervously fighting.
This may sound like the film takes place entirely in stuff offices but Iannucci continually finds ways to make the film feel bigger than his television counterpart. The film begins with a hilarious sequence involving a sound technician (Patty Considine) who gets a call from Stalin wanting a recording of a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 that was broadcast over the airwaves. They didn't record it and he is forced to scramble in order to get the concerto recorded.
This opening scene reminds us of the terror and paranoia of Stalin's rule. Iannucci milks this for dark laughs that feel completely relevant in today's political climate. This gives the film something deeper than just humor at the illogical nature of this moment in history.
The ensemble cast is great here but Simon Russel Beale and Steve Buscemi steal the show as warring comrades who are constantly trying to pull fast ones on each other in their attempts to steer the country. The Death of Stalin takes on an episodic feel at times but manages to nail the closing moments and create a near classic comedy.