The Death of Stalin Reviews
Manohla Dargis New York Times
"Often Hilarious" Michael Phillips Chicago Tribune
"A unique and hilarious British comedy."
Mike LaSalle San Francisco Chronicle
"Source of hilarity and it is hilarious."
Bill Goodykoontz Arizona Republic
"A complete bore! Did the above critics see the same movie I saw?"
"The Death of Stalin" is set in the 1950s and the fight for power in Russia after the dictator's death. Are you laughing yet? It supposedly is satire which implies irony or sarcasm and the director/writer, Armando Iannucci, tries everything from the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges slapstick to insult comedy, chaos, no attempt at Russian accents having various accents ranging from Brooklyn to London but getting very few reactions from the audience.
Iannucci is the writer of the much awarded HBO series "Veep" known for its comedy, irony, and sarcasm which it delivers with belly laughs, smiles, smirks, and humor while here he enlists 2 additional writers and the only smile/laugh I can remember is a crack about Grace Kelly!
The cast consisting of Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Adrian McLoughlin, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Rupert Friend, Jason Issacs, Paddy Considine among others deliver the expected performances with a little scenery chewing now and then.
Enjoy seeing people shot in the head, brains taken out of a head after the scalp is cut back and 'fun' things like that? Can you go another day without knowing that most good doctors in Russia were killed and that Stalin had lists of people to be killed?
Those answering 'yes' to any of the questions asked should probably go and see "The Death of Stalin".
The only questions I am asking myself is have I lost my sense of humor as I've grown older or is funny and/or satire not what it was defined years ago?
The death of a ruthless dictator is often followed by total chaos, usually not of the funny variety. Except here. Here it's quite funny.
Too early? Shouldn't be after all this was 1953, but the atrocities of the Soviet state were indeed, quite brutal. Thus the fine line balancing act begins. Armando Iannucci has bitten deep into political farce with Veep, The Thick of It, and In The Loop, but this is on another level altogether.
As the masses are being rounded up and flippantly disposed of, the heads of state quibble nonsensically over tedious issues whilst plotting their personal power trips. Portraying eventual successor (spoiler) Nikita Krushev, Steve Buscemi is fabulously frazzled and slyly devious, but it is the truly vitriolic performance of Simon Russell Beale as the vile Lavrentiy Beria that steals the show. It's not easy to dip below the slimy levels of Stalin's henchmen, but Beale accomplishes the creepy feat with Shakespearian vigour. Too bad not all of the cast, especially the usually adept Jeffrey Tambor, can't keep up.
To the film's credit, the great purge is not a mere backdrop to the Marx Brothers style frivolity, but a harsh companion. Torture and executions mix with all the bumbling. Risky, and perhaps the reason for steering the comedy away from physical to verbal. A bit of an unfilled tease with Monty Pythoner Michael Palin along for the ride, but so be it.
Bet Vladimir Putin's not in any hurry to catch this one.
Bring a bottle.
Wine is fine but Vodka is a better fit.
The film opens with a dinner party thrown by Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) and attended by his inner circle of Nikita Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov (Golden Globe and Emmy winners Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Vyacheslav Molotov (Monty Python veteran Michael Palin). During that gathering, Stalin causes a minor panic by in a concert hall by personally asking for a recorded copy of that night's performance, and panic also comes to various individuals around Moscow as Stalin's security forces go after those on his most recent enemies list, as published by Beria. All of this tells us a lot about the main characters and Stalin's regime and nicely sets the stage for what is to come.
The rest of the movie concerns itself with the titular event and its aftermath, focusing on the comical inefficiency of the Soviet regime and backstabbing among its high-ranking officials. After the aforementioned dinner party, after Stalin reads some hate mail sent to him by an idealistic and gutsy musician (Olga Kurylenko), then has a medical episode and collapses. Over the next 12 hours or so, Stalin's personal security detail, various government officials and a motley crew of doctors who are eventually called, all bungle their responses and Stalin dies. Then Stalin's children, a na´ve drama queen (Andrea Riseborough) and an unhinged alcoholic (Emmy nominee Rupert Friend) show up, adding to the mayhem, followed quickly by the self-important Soviet Army chief, Field Marshall Zhukov (Jason Isaacs). Meanwhile, the men in the dead dictator's inner circle jockey for power and scheme against each other.
"The Death of Stalin" is clever, but not as funny as it wants to be. The movie tries to walk the fine line between taking the events it depicts somewhat seriously and showing the ridiculousness of the Soviet system in the early-mid 1950s and the men who ran it. The film walks that line well, but in doing so, fails to be very entertaining. The tragic historical facts of Stalin's murderous regime and the way its inefficiency fueled the Cold War with the United States makes the jokes less funny, but the nods to the seriousness of those situations keep the jokes from going far enough to be funnier. Despite the excellent cast, that middle-of-the-road approach to making a comedy about Stalin's death results in a middle-of-the-road grade from me, teetering on the edge of whether to recommend this movie or not... but barely coming down on the side of not. "C+"