The Death of Stalin (2018)
In 1953, Joseph Stalin died. The Death of Stalin covers the aftermath as his top cabinet members scheme and fight for control over Mother Russia.
I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to like this, but based on how much I enjoyed director Armando Iannucci’s superb film, In the Loop, I figured I’d give it a try. Now that I have seen it, I’m not sure I did enjoy it. I think I did, there’s certainly plenty to recommend that’s for sure, but ultimately the darker elements in this very dark comedy left me feeling uneasy about making light about this period in history.
The writing is sharp, the cast are good (especially Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale). It’s well paced, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the production design and photography are superb. There are also one or two laugh out loud moments. Like when Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) wants to switch places with Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) at Stalin’s funeral. He tries to make the transition look like part of the ceremony, only to stand directly in front of an unamused Malenkov, who won’t budge. There are several moments like this, that left me gasping for air they were so funny. But for every moment that made me laugh, there was a scene that got me a little snowflake-y.
There isn’t a single likable character in this film. They are all scheming assholes and there is a lot of ugliness in this story. Lavrenti Beria’s (Simon Russell Beale) taste for young girls was difficult to watch, as was his cold implementation of Stalin’s ‘lists,’ instructing soldiers to, for example, “kill the wife first and make sure the husband sees you do it before you kill him.”
Ultimately, the outcome of this power struggle felt vapid to me. There are no heroes, only villains, so when one of these characters die it didn’t feel like a victory. I know this is probably the point of this film (historically speaking), but I found myself wishing there was someone I could relate to and root for. If you enjoyed In the Loop, but like your dark comedy a lot darker, I think you’ll enjoy The Death of Stalin. Ultimately, I would say I appreciated the quality of this film (acting, script, production design), it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko
Directed by: Armando Iannucci
Screenplay by: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows
Rating: R Running Time: 1 hr 47 min.