The Death of Stalin
Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…some genuinely hilarious set ups and a nice mixture of farce and other styles of comedy.
Despite his exotic name (from his Italian father), writer/director Armando Iannucci is Scottish. He is a huge cult to those who share his deliciously vicious and richly-dialogued comedies. He is the brains behind Veep, In the Loop and The Thick of It. That list alone will be enough to have a lot of people lining up to see his recent foray into cinema. The other thing this film has is a fantastic ensemble cast of comedic and theatrical talents (Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor and half a dozen other recognisable faces). Clearly, casting agents would have no problem persuading actors to work with this material.
It is set in Moscow. The year is 1953 and the feared peasant-tyrant Stalin is still terrorising all and sundry. His ‘court’ consists of those remaining Bolsheviks who have managed to toady their way into not being shot or sent to Siberia. They loathe and fear Beria (Russell Beale), Stalin’s chief spy and torturer who has the dirt on all of them. When Stalin has a stroke, Khrushchev (Buscemi) leads the crazed politburo in a madcap attempt to orchestrate the state funeral whilst out-manoeuvring each other’s schemes.
The film has some genuinely hilarious set ups and a nice mixture of farce and other styles of comedy. The banter between the players is expertly delivered and the author’s placing of the killer one-liner is much in evidence. The tradition of satirising the absurdities of Stalinism is a well-worn path of course. It has been done for decades, not least by many Russian and Eastern European playwrights and directors who lived through that era. That said, there are some aspects of Stalin and Beria’s cruelties that are so vile that it is hard to keep up the mask of comedy. Russell Beale has the range to cover all of this, of course, and he gives us a Beria worth hating. Still, the overall tone of the film is of an insane ride through an insane time. As one of the characters remarks, “I have had nightmares that made more sense than this.” That says it all.