Brutal dictators and their conspiratorial would-be successors — they’re just like us! Read: grasping, vain, selfish, petty, blind to their own weakness and stupidity, and only too willing to let others suffer as long as they prosper and advance. Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci puts it all on black (comedy), betting that the vast discrepancy between great power and small souls will make you laugh at the absurdity of it all — or at least not scream in horror. The results run the gamut from slapsticky (the gang hauling a stricken Stalin from office floor to bed, then rounding up the worst doctors in Moscow to assess him), to mordant, to silly, to heartbreaking in spite of itself. (It’s positively sweet the way they all want to ease up on the executions, even as they rush to destroy each other.) Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev has an advantage over his well cast peers, partly because we know how things end, but it’s the burly Simon Russell Beale as Lavrenti Beria, chief of the Soviet secret police, who gives the film its twisted, beating, human heart. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
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