(France/UK/Belgium - 2018)
Directed by Armando Iannucci. Written by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows. Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Adrian McLoughlin, Dermot Crowley, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Richard Brake, Diana Quick, Karl Johnson, Tom Brooke, Gerald Lepkowski. (R, 107 mins)
Best known in America for creating the HBO series VEEP, Armando Iannucci has been one of the most respected names in British comedy for over 20 years. He co-created Steve Coogan's signature "Alan Partridge" character, seen in several British TV series and the 2013 film ALAN PARTRIDGE, and was the brains behind the scathing BBC political satire THE THICK OF IT. That was spun off into the hilarious 2009 film IN THE LOOP, both of which centered on the stunningly profane central performance of Peter Capaldi and more or less set the style and tone for VEEP. Iannucci stepped down as VEEP's showrunner after its fourth season, and he's back with his second feature film, THE DEATH OF STALIN, based on a 2017 French graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. The trademark Iannucci tone and endless, gloriously foul dialogue are here in all their glory, but THE DEATH OF STALIN is much darker than what we've seen from Iannucci in the past, largely because it depicts a series of actual events but runs them through its maker's uniquely skewed perspective and pitch-black comedy filter. This isn't just comedy of discomfort--it's comedy of unease. In less capable hands, it could've been an uneven and potentially tone-deaf disaster--after DR. STRANGELOVE, you can probably count on one hand the number of dark political comedies that are simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. Perhaps it takes a cynical master of bullshit-calling like Iannucci to properly convey the unattainable heights of narcissistic sociopathy mixed the ego-driven, thorough incompetence displayed by the powers that be, with the resulting film being a vicious beatdown of dictatorial regimes embodying the adage of absolute power corrupting absolutely (the film was banned in Russia earlier this year after the Culture Ministry deemed it offensive), and though the film is set in the Soviet Union over 60 years ago, analogies can be drawn much closer to home in the here and now.