To put it diplomatically, American relations with Russia have gotten decidedly complicated over the past year or so. It’s almost something of a relief, then, that political satirist extraordinaire and Veep creator Armando Iannucci would take a step into the past for his harebrained take on the Kremlin. His hotly anticipated new feature The Death of Stalin (the writer-director’s first film project since 2009’s In the Loop, a specimen of nearly perfect comedy) takes us back to the ’50s heyday of the USSR, at a pivotal moment prior to the superpower’s downfall. And as a titan falls, Iannucci laughs his head off at the little people maneuvering to avoid getting crushed.

The newly released trailer begins with the dictator unexpectedly dropping dead and leaving a power vacuum that sends his closest advisors into hilarious disarray. The trailer introduces us to the players jockeying to fill Stalin’s shoes, and in true Iannuccian fashion, it’s a collection of salty-mouthed, apoplectic, chronically confused rubes. Jeffrey Tambor and Steve Buscemi lead as the late Stalin’s deputy Georgy Malenkov and his bald-headed successor Nikita Khrushchev, with Jason Isaacs as decorated military man Georgy Zhukov and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s grieving son Vasily.

By this point in his career, we know exactly what sort of humor to expect from Iannucci: Scathing satire underscoring the pettiness and hypocrisy of political horse-trading, couched in virtuosic obscenity deployed at a pace so spritely it could be described as “peppy” if these characters didn‘t all have black hearts. Frankly, it’s just reassuring to see a vision of government as hectic, absurd, and incompetent as our current reality — only this one, we can laugh at without the sting of terror that we’re all going to be blown to smithereens at any moment.

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