The Death of Stalin combines Seinfeld style hijinks, Godfather level intrigue, and soul crushing historical tragedy.
Josef Stalin died in 1953 and the film chronicles the power struggle among the Central Committee of the Soviet leadership. Steve Buscemi gives the performance of his life as Nikita Khrushchev, the Party member who eventually emerged as the Premier of the Soviet Union. The film begins with Khrushchev joking about a mass execution he once witnessed. He's neither the smartest, nor the most intimidating, yet finds the dexterity to triumph.
Khrushchev's competitors are Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), basically Stalin's stooge, and Beria (Simon Russell Beale) who ran the Secret Police (NKVD) and committed many crimes against humanity.
When Stalin dies unceremoniously of a brain hemorrhage, his cronies struggle over what to do with the body in Marx Brother type shenanigans. They cannot find a doctor since all the good ones were executed for disloyalty! Then the intrigue begins.
They all acknowledge Stalin was a tyrant, yet all were accomplices in his reign of terror. All realize the new leadership must emphasize reform and repairing all the damage left in his wake. They know getting the support of his children's important, who are brilliantly played by Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough.
As the shaky transition of power begins, they plan the funeral (a task that falls to Khrushchev) which allows for endless gallows humor straight out of Duck Soup.
It's a comedy Voltaire would appreciate, power appears absurd and terrifying. The Death of Stalin ends with a horrifying execution as the schemers crack jokes and joyfully watch their nemesis suffer, daring the audience to laugh with them since the victim was an awful person in the first place. Few films outside of Dr. Strangelove can achieve such sublime moments.
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