MARCH 16, 2018 -- Mark Twain once said "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." Indeed, the truth can not only be stranger than fiction, but also funnier. And that is the beauty of Armando Iannucci's latest lampoon, "The Death of Stalin".


The creator of television's Veep and the 2009 satire "In the Loop", this time casts a stellar ensemble of great comedians including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, and Michael Palin to recreate the days surrounding Joseph Stalin's death in 1952. It is hilarious. What makes it even funnier is that Iannucci's chronology follows historical records.


To follow along, I used Wikipedia to follow the general history of the Stalin's death and the succession of events that followed with various personnel including Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi), Vyacheslav Molotov (Palin), Georgy Malenkov (Tambor) and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale) maneuvering to take control of the void left following the sudden death. It is easy to understand why Russia has banned the film!

Iannucci leaves no detail omitted including the fact that Stalin was found lying in his own urine and the time it took for the soviet committee to convene and decide to call a doctor. He even mocks the mass genocide by Stalin and his agents as he tried to clear the union of his enemies.


Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough give decent turns as Stalin's embattled sot of a son Vasily and outspoken daughter Svetlana who both had different outcomes after the death of their father. Olga Kurylenko portrays the anti-soviet pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina who somehow avoided the wrath of the conservative communist machine.


Even the smaller brief roles were handled with aplomb; specifically Karl Johnson's role as incompetent doctor Lukomsky who really has no idea what to do with Stalin's comatose body before the leader finally dies. Details such as the Chinese presence of Zhou Enlai (Dave Wong) makes you realize that Iannucci did his homework.


The screenplay is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same title by Fabien Fury and Thierry Robin. The comedy is typical of British style humor unrelentingly non-stop with impeccable timing. However, it makes mockery of even the mass murdering that took place in 1950s Russia and has nuances of Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". Calling it a dark comedy would be ignoring the films almost slapstick nature.


In comparison Buscemi even looks like Khruschchev and Beale is a near perfect Beria who was thisclose to taking control of the Soviet Union before he was "removed" from his office.


"The Death of Stalin" is the funniest film in the last six of seven months an is so relevant to the current news on both Russia and the U.S. The cast is perfect, the writing and directing tight and if you're not careful, you might even learn a thing or two about Russian history.   -- GRADE A  --   GEOFF BURTON