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‘The Death of Stalin’ (review)

Produced by Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun,
Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Kevin Loader

Screenplay by Armando Iannucci,
David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows

Based on the graphic novel by
Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Directed by Armando Iannucci
Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale,
Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs,
Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough,
Jeffrey Tambor, Adrian McLoughlin


Communism is NOT dead.

However Joseph Stalin, hilariously is.

The Death of Stalin has, for better or worse, (better IMHO) resurrected the evil former USSR’s bleak past of the spring of 1953.

In this wonderful, dark, political comedy by TV and film director Armando Iannucci, who also co-wrote the screenplay, based on the French graphic novel La mort de Staline. He perfectly balances riotous and shocking humor with the seriousness of the events in the USSR at this time.

There is turmoil and tragedy in the Soviet Union when the terrible and feared dictator, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin has a major stroke after receiving a threatening letter from a angered pianist. He suffers a cerebral hemorrhage that causes a massive stroke that later kills him. The ensuing and incredible power struggle within the Secretariat that follows is both unbelievable and more convoluted than an M. Night Shyamalan film except that, in this case, this all really happened.

All the major players are here, portrayed by some of the best character actors in the business.

Steve Buscemi is amazing as Moscow Party Head, Nikita Kruschev, who’s goal is to not only destroy the conniving and cunning, NKVD chief, and all around scary mofo, Lavrentiy Beria, brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale, who steals the film, I think, but to also dispose soon to be interim Premier, Georgy Malenkov, the hapless and easily manipulated portrayed by Jeffrey Tambor. Michael Palin’s turn as Vyacheslav Molotov is both hilarious and surprising. Finally, Jason Issacs’ Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov is perfectly cast as the blustery and larger than life head of the Red Army who’s help Kruschev is going to need to help him fulfill his ultimate plan.

Their Oscar worthy performances along with an array of fantastic supporting players really bring this whole film together. These great actors play off each other and they have the well-oiled timing of veteran Vaudevillian performers. Everything gels to make it so much more then just a silly satire making fun of the Soviets and into something that is a truly scathing look at what real power and fear is like.

Hopefully, this film will not go unnoticed this time next year. If there was an award for best ensemble cast this would already have my vote, hands down.

I walked into this movie expecting a “Monty Python-esque” film spoofing the events around the death of Stalin. What I got was one of the best, most gripping, and belly achingly funny political satires I have ever seen. Iannucci, the Scottish born writer and director is best known for the very funny and often times scathing political TV shows and films, Veep, The Thick of It, and In the Loop. He takes all that he has learned and has spun a roiling tale here that has so many unexpected twists and turns depicting what actually happened that I was fully “on the floor” laughing at the horrible situations at hand.

How can one make something so dire as the plight and turmoil of 1950’s Cold War Soviet Union so funny?

Well as any master humorist can, he takes the horrific and finds the absurd in the extremes. One second you are guffawing at a perfectly timed joke and turn of phrase by tow of the master actors and in the next breath you are gasping at an insane moment of extreme, straightforward brutality much like the people of that place and time were.

Much like the award winning 1997 film Life is Beautiful, which uses humor and satire to show just how horrific and terrible the Holocaust was, this film does much he same with the events surrounding the power grab after the infamous dictator’s death. It never marginalizes or makes light of the tragedies of the people or of the utter despicableness of the politicians.

It DOES, however intensify, with humor, their lack of humanity and repulsiveness and utter disregard for the very lives they are supposed to be representing and protecting.

I love these types of films when done right. This film does it all right and then some. Like all great comedies it is a refection of the world around us and as we all know, things are pretty crazy right now. The Death Of Stalin is a highly polished mirror shining, brilliantly the past misfortunes of others back at us so that maybe we can finally turn a corner and straighten out our own messed up problems going on today.

Go see the film.

I feel it is one of those important films that will be on many people’s “best films” for years to come. Oh, and keep a sharp eye out for Pailin’s homage to his Jack Lint character in Terry Gilliam’s, Brazil, another brilliant politically charged dark comedy.


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