The Death of Stalin

Critics Consensus

The Death of Stalin finds director/co-writer Arnando Iannucci in riotous form, bringing his scabrous political humor to bear on a chapter in history with painfully timely parallels.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 236

77%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,971
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Movie Info

The one-liners fly as fast as political fortunes fall in this uproarious, wickedly irreverent satire from Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop). Moscow, 1953: when tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin drops dead, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweeby Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the wily Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the sadistic secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). But as they bumble, brawl, and backstab their way to the top, just who is running the government? Combining palace intrigue with rapid-fire farce, this audacious comedy is a bitingly funny takedown of bureaucratic dysfunction performed to the hilt by a sparkling ensemble cast.

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Cast

Steve Buscemi
as Nikita Khrushchev
Jeffrey Tambor
as Georgy Malenkov
Simon Russell Beale
as Lavrentiy Beria
Paddy Considine
as Comrade Andryev
Rupert Friend
as Vasily Stalin
Jason Isaacs
as Georgy Zhukov
Olga Kurylenko
as Maria Yudina
Michael Palin
as Vyacheslav Molotov
Andrea Riseborough
as Svetlana Stalin
Paul Whitehouse
as Anastas Mikoyan
Jonathan Aris
as Mezhnikov
Dermot Crowley
as Kaganovich
Cara Horgan
as Lidiya Timashuk
Justin Edwards
as Spartak Sokolov
Adrian McLoughlin
as Joseph Stalin
Gerald Lepkowski
as Leonid Brezhnev
Eva Sayer
as Young Waitress
Eloise Henwood
as Sweet Russian Girl
Adam Shaw
as Ilyin
Emilio Iannucci
as Young Doctor
Paul Chahidi
as Nicolai Bulganin
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News & Interviews for The Death of Stalin

Critic Reviews for The Death of Stalin

All Critics (236) | Top Critics (41)

  • A devastatingly funny dissection of power politics, stripping the mystique from it and those who worship it. Iannucci has done it again.

    Mar 30, 2018 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…
  • "The Death of Stalin" is a deep farce, but it is rooted in enough political reality that it hardly feels sensationalized. And given the current state of politics, it's as on-point as a breaking news alert.

    Mar 23, 2018 | Rating: A- | Full Review…
  • The Death of Stalin is actually a lot like Veep, except with gulags and executions.

    Mar 22, 2018 | Rating: A- | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Mar 22, 2018 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • "The Death of Stalin" should please moviegoers who appreciate humor that's significantly more sophisticated than we've become accustomed to encountering on the big screen these days.

    Mar 22, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • "The Death of Stalin" makes real-life horrors the source of hilarity - and it is hilarious - while never making light of the insanity that inspired it.

    Mar 22, 2018 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Death of Stalin

  • Dec 22, 2018
    I've always felt, and feel that this is something that most of you know or, maybe, should know, that you retain information better if you're having fun or if you're being entertained. This is especially true when it refers to school topics such as history, math, english or whatever other subject you may be covering. I know some of you, particularly those from an older generation, might say that learning or education isn't about having fun, it's about, well, learning, of course. And there's some truth to that in that you should also learn. But, let's just say, that your teacher is like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where his monotone and boring form of talking means that he's, essentially, a substitute for Ambien to the kids taking his classes. Nobody is gonna learn anything from a teacher like that. Same thing applies to a teacher with no passion for what they do. None of that resonates with kids or, really, any student of any age for that matter. For example, take this movie, as an example, and imagine this as a class taught by Ben Stein. Now, let's take out Ben Stein out of the equation and, say, we put George Carlin in his place or whomever your favorite comic is. It's not just a stand-up routine, you're actually also learning something about the Soviet Union in the aftermath of Stalin's death. You tell me which class you're gonna remember more??? This brings us to this little flick right here. And, of course, I'm not here to suggest that this movie is entirely 100% historically accurate, because it's not. To criticize the movie for not being historically accurate, mostly historians, I feel, is kind of missing the point of the movie. Armando Iannucci isn't Kenneth Branagh, who would probably go nuts if he was to write and direct this movie, making a four-hour comprehensive epic that would be as close to the real thing as humanly possible. Armando Iannucci is a satirist, well-known for his political satires The Thick Of It (which was extended to an excellent film called In The Loop), Veep and, obviously, this movie. He's taken a look at the immediate aftermath of Stalin's death, the instant political machinations by both Beria and Nikita in order to assert their vision for the Soviet Union's future by manipulating those around them, trying to gain as many people in the presidium in their favor in order to oust the other. It's completely and utterly fascinating to watch honestly. There's a sort of manic energy surrounding the events of the movie as, in many ways, and this clearly oversimplifies what happens, it's kind of a tug-of-war between Nikita and Beria and they're trying to pull as hard and as fast as they can to, basically, improve their position. Georgy Malenkov, Stalin's successor, really is kind of a patsy and he doesn't really run anything, Beria and Nikita are the men pulling the strings from behind the scenes, as it were, Georgy is just the figurehead that they have propped up at the moment to give the nation a sense of continuity during this transitional period in Soviet Union's history. Beria and Nikita both paint their intentions for those of the betterment of the country but, deep down, it's painfully clear that they want to lead the Soviet Union into a, supposedly, more prosperous period. That the Soviet Union stood for thirty more years after this should tell you THAT story. The film covers so much ground and, quite honestly, Soviet Union politics are not my forte, so I'm not even gonna bother going through every tiny little detail the film has to offer. Like I said, however, the film is, quite frankly, quite fucking great and the story it tells is so damn fascinating that it inspires you, if you didn't know about this chapter in history, to pick up a book detailing the consequences of Nikita and Beria's actions in the immediate aftermath of Stalin's death. I imagine that, while not necessarily 100% historically accurate, this movie captures the immediacy of the importance of what is to come next for the Soviet Union. And I imagine it also must capture how stressful it was to be either of these two men (Nikita and Beria) during this time, not knowing what their future would hold, whether they would even be alive at the end of that particular year. As entertaining as the movie is, and it is quite frankly a hilarious movie at times, I don't think it ever pretends that this was a wonderful time in history nor does it try to sugarcoat the horrible shit that happened in the aftermath. The death of 1500 civilians at the hand of the NKVD as a result of Nikita ordering the borders be opened, even if the NKVD were assigned by Beria. I think, in this film's context at least, Nikita knew very well what he was doing and he was using these civilians in order to, maybe, push Beria out the door. There's some really sobering scenes of people who might have helped Beria's cause being executed as if they were nothing and, to me, I think that's what most impacting about the movie, just the sheer amount of government oppression on display here. Doctors are killed, most of them off screen, just for being doctors and, supposedly, plotting against the Soviet Union (the evidence of this treason most likely having been fabricated). Even the climactic act itself, with the coup against Beria, him being subdued and giving a quick "trial" and promptly executed like he's nothing. Kind of sobering to watch honestly. As is to be expected with a film from someone like Armando Iannucci, the script is tremendous with biting satire. I don't wanna say the movie is a laugh riot from beginning to end, because it's not, but the comedy in the movie is tremendous. Vasily, Stalin's son, steals pretty much every scene he's in. That's not to say that the rest of the characters themselves aren't memorable, because they are, it's just that Vasily, a more ancillary character that's not really relevant to the narrative in any significant way, can be used as the "comic" relief. And that's saying something when every major character has great comedic moments. I think the movie invites you in with its comedy, but it hooks you with its tale of political machinations and excellent performances from every single member of the cast. Steve Buscemi gives his best performance in years (non-Boardwalk Empire). Simon Russell Beale is a tremendous villain. Jeffrey Tambor is a perfect patsy as Georgy Malenkov, as he tries to act like he's in control when, in reality, he's at the mercy of Nikita and/or Beria's manipulations. I single out these three because they really are at the head of the film's narrative and they drive it forward, but this might be the best cast I've seen in a comedy in fucking ages. That's how great they are. In many ways, this movie isn't exactly gonna be everybody's cup of tea, since I'm certain most casual fans aren't really gonna find much to like here, in spite of how great this movie is, but I found this to be a top-notch movie. Not only does it entertain you with a tremendous script and cast, but it also inspires you (while not necessarily being 100% historically accurate) to do some research on this subject and, hopefully, learn even more about it. I cannot complain about this movie in the slightest, this is a great movie (not just a great comedy) and I would easily recommend it if you know the type of political satire that you're getting into.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer
  • Dec 10, 2018
    "I have a bad back" "Too much social climbing, eh?" This thing is loaded to the brim with one-liners and while I'm not the most politically-minded person (and by that I mean not at all) I caught onto enough to laugh plenty. Should probably watch some more Armando Iannucci. Dude has an ear for the irreverent.
    Philip P Super Reviewer
  • May 02, 2018
    This film is funny, sometimes in the smartest way and other times in the dumbest. It balances political power plays with goofy satire well, and the performances are very entertaining. The plot of this film, however, is very thin and the narrative never wows you. This movie is certainly entertaining, but won't have you belly-laughing, biting your nails, or blow your mind.
    Sanjay R Super Reviewer
  • Apr 16, 2018
    BORE AND PEACE - My Review of THE DEATH OF STALIN (2 1/2 Stars) I'm a fan of Armando Iannucci's work. IN THE LOOP and VEEP contain some of the most razor sharp, savage dialogue I've ever heard. His attention to the cowardice of humankind and the terrible ways we often communicate with each other puts him a cut above the rest of the world's satirists. Consider then my relative disappointment with his latest project, THE DEATH OF STALIN. While bracingly funny at times and wonderfully acted by its entire, huge ensemble, the film wore out its welcome, and sometimes its coherence, around the halfway mark. Set in Moscow during the time of Stalin's death, the story explores the insane pile-up of power grabs by those who survived the despot. Not such an easy thing to do in the darkest time of the Soviet Regime, as this wacky comedy has an insanely large body count. Its opening act, and perhaps its best moments, centers around Andreyev, an Engineer (Paddy Considine in fine form) panicking when Stalin directly orders him to record a symphony he oversees. Problem is, the symphony has just ended, so Andreyev quickly rounds up people on the street, a conductor at home in his pajamas, and a hostile pianist (a strong Olga Kurylenko from QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who detests Stalin and refuses to play again. Through this sequence, we feel the fear everyone has of their leader and the brave faces they all put on in order to survive. Eventually, Stalin dies, although in true farcical fashion, it takes forever! The power vacuum left behind gets filled by his surviving cabinet members, all of whom would love to lead their country, despite lacking the moral compass to make something better out of the hell Stalin created. These potential leaders include Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, a fantastic Simon Russell Beale as a head torturer for the KGB, Jason Isaacs, and the winning one-two punch of Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend as Stalin's daughter and son. The film notably eschews Russian accents for the most part, with each actor using their natural speaking voices, most hilariously resulting in Buscemi's Krushchev sounding like a disgruntled NYPD Officer. I also loved how in the background of the frame, we see people being shot, or rolling down stairs, while people carry on petty arguments in the foreground. This sounds amazing, no? And it is for a while. Like his other projects, Iannucci has a real gift for the minutiae of desperate people doing or saying anything they can to stay in the game, or in this case, stay alive. It's like VEEP with a longer running time and bloodshed. But after a while, I stopped caring as an aura of sameness crept into the viewing experience. I stopped trying to follow the convoluted story and occasionally smiled at a well-realized quip or two. THE DEATH OF STALIN is no disaster by any means. It's a fluffy farce which dares to place itself into a dark place in world history. It's got great nervous energy and more plotting and scheming than an episode of SURVIVOR. A shame, however, that it ultimately bored me.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer

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