Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie Review: "The Death of Stalin" (2018)

Image Source
Director: Armando Iannucci
Year: 2018
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Upon Joseph Stalin's death, the remaining top members of his Party fight for control of the Soviet Union.
"Trade places with me! We can make it look like part of the procession!" (Image Source)
Cold War power grabs and Russian genocide, it's just so wacky, isn't it?!

"The Death of Stalin" is directed by Armando Iannucci, who also co-wrote the screenplay with David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows. It is adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nurry and Thierry Robin. The film begins at the end of Stalin's life where the public lives in terror that they will say the wrong thing and will be shipped off to a Siberian gulag and executed. One night, Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) has a cerebral hemorrhage and collapses. When his top advisors and members of the Party council learn of his condition, they scramble and start to maneuver to clinch the power Stalin will relinquish upon his death. The two biggest players are Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beal), who heads the NKVD (Soviet secret police) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), the Moscow Party head. Both men use their pull to manipulate their counsel partners in the hopes of using Stalin's successor Georgy Malenkov (Jeffery Tambor) as a puppet to push their own agendas.
"I'm exhausted. I can't remember who's alive and who's dead." (Image Source)
A movie about political maneuvering in the Soviet Union may not sound like a comedy, but we assure you it is. This is a darkly comedic satire and uses its uncomfortable subject matter as a source of humor. Dark comedies aren't for everyone. Some people may find that making rapists and murderers the main focus of a comedy is a big problem. If you are one of those people, "The Death of Stalin" is certainly not for you. If you enjoy dark humor, especially one that is so steeped in irony, even if it ruffles a few feathers or deals with an otherwise extremely tragic period in history, then you may enjoy this like we did.

It's obvious right off the bat that this film doesn't have the slightest bit of seriousness. All of the actors who are playing Russian people sound English, American, Scottish, Irish, etc. No one even attempts to do a bad Russian accent because they learned from the mistakes of "Red Sparrow." Of course, this could be a nod to old Hollywood movies of the time where, regardless of what country a character was supposed to be from, it meant they spoke with a British accent. We really liked this oddly refreshing aspect of the movie since. It's quite funny if even it's terribly uncomfortable at times, like when Jeffrey Tambor tells people to "kiss my Russian ass." Hell, it's not just in this situation. We thought the entire movie was funny and we're happy to report we laughed a lot while watching it.
"I know the drill: smile, shake hands, and try not to call them a cunt." (Image Source)
The acting is very good all around. The one standout for us was Rupert Friend's portrayal of Vasily, Stalin's bumbling drunkard of a son. As soon as he showed up on screen, our theater filled with uproarious laughter because of his wild and ridiculous conspiracy theories, including how he thought an American-made respiratory machine was sure to pump capitalist propaganda into a dead Stalin's brain once he was hooked up to it. That being said, some may not like seeing so many Russian historical figures played as spineless weaklings who lived in fear. It appears that Armando Iannucci wants to show that those in power lived in just as much fear as everyone else did, that they too were manipulated by propaganda so much so that they started to believe their own bullshit.

In the end, we found "The Death of Stalin" to be an enjoyable viewing experience. It's a bit chaotic in its madness, but we laughed a lot (not as much as the couple behind us, but still!) and the story kept us engaged.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.2/10
RT Rating: ~95%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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