It revolves around the power struggle that occurs at the death of Stalin in 1953, a man who had an iron grip on Russia for 30 years and enforced his will with terror, often randomly.
So when the sycophants who surround him are suddenly bereft of his soul, they are all jockeying for power while finding it very difficult to do the one thing that would get you tortured and killed as long as they can remember – independent thinking, or even making suggestions for that matter. A simple show of hands vote becomes a hilarious demonstration of group think. They all have a collective case of Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to Stalin, still afraid of a man who is dead.
Jeffrey Tambor is doing his character Hank from the 90s sitcom “The Larry Sanders Show”, and Steve Buschemi, as Nikita Khrushchev, doesn’t look like any picture of Khrushchev that I ever saw at any point in his life. Plus he’s basically doing his “funny looking guy” schtick from Fargo, and yet it all works.
When Lavrenti Beria, head of the secret police and probably responsible for untold terrors, gently tells Stalin’s daughter that she needs to leave Russia because people who are strange like she is don’t live very long, it is practically a sweet intimate moment that runs counter to everything we know about the guy.
This is a bleak yet hilarious comedy built around real events. I’d highly recommend it. There’s no avoiding truths rapidly passed over in this depiction of chaos following the death of an evil dictator. Stalin had charm…to those who were not his subjects and were never a threat to his authority. He fooled many so-called intellectuals in the West but everyone around him knew the truth, and, most managed to tip-toe over eggshells in order to stay alive.
To thrive in such an environment requires a certain kind of callous ruthlessness…perfectly depicted with suitable crass humour here. The cast is perfectly chosen…each very accomplished actor adding their particular star dust. There’s more than a single sittings’ content in this film which deserves another viewing. Impressive and engaging story-telling based on real life events. Bravo all.