THE DEATH OF STALIN – A Review by Cynthia Flores

THE DEATH OF STALIN – A Review by Cynthia Flores
If you appreciate wry, dry humor, love political comedy, and you’re a fan of the cable TV hit show Veep, then The Death of Stalin is made for you.  Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci cut his teeth creating, writing, and producing the show Veep in 2012 and it shows.  This movie is a sharp-witted, faced paced, salacious look at a chapter in history with timely parallels to what's going on now in the world.  From the trailer I was expecting a film more along the lines of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Instead, The Death of Stalin seems to borrow it’s pacing more from Monty Python's brand of absurd humor.
The film starts in Moscow 1953, twenty years after tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) had systematically gotten rid of anyone who opposed him by exile, imprisonment or just having them shot.  So when Stalin calls the manager, Andreyev (Paddy Considine), of the orchestra he’s listening to on the radio and says that he wants a copy of the recording of the performance everyone goes into a panic.  You see, it wasn’t recorded so Andreyev must tell the room full of concertgoers and the orchestra not to leave, that Stalin wanted a recording of the event so they would have to do it all over again!  Crazy you might say, except that they actually do it.  That’s the kind of chokehold through fear that Stalin and his cronies had on the entire country at that time.  The only hold out is Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), the lead pianist and star of the orchestra; she refuses to do it again until she is paid off.  Then, she insists on putting a personal note into the sleeve of the record telling Stalin exactly how much she hates him and that he should drop dead.  He has killed her entire family and she’s not afraid anymore.  As he listens to the recording he laughs at the note and then proceeds to fall to the floor from a stroke.
This film is amazing, and it’s hard to keep up with all its one-liners flying around.  You don’t even have time to be shocked by the brutality of the time because the next atrocity on the list needs to be done with flippant abandon.  We watch as political fortunes fall and rise after Stalin finally dies from the stroke, his parasitical cabinet members square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next leader of the Soviet Union.
Stalin's next in the chain of command was the wishy-washy Gregory Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) who is used by the sadistic chief of the secret police, Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), to appoint him his next in line.  Somehow you just know that Lavrentiy plans for old Gregory not to last long as the new leader.  However they all underestimate the pragmatic and wily Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) who ultimately gets the last laugh as he uses Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), the brash head of the Soviet army, to back him on his plan to deal with Lavrentiy.  
It’s really fun to watch these old men claw and backstab their way to the top.  I loved the directors’ decision to let the actors speak in their native accents of everything from American New Jersey to British instead of trying to speak with a thick Russian accent.  I believe that lends a lot to this rapid-fire farce and bitingly funny look at bureaucratic dysfunction on an epic scale.  The ensemble cast is brilliant and just play off each other like a finely tuned machine. The Death of Stalin is a funny film that I hope finds its audience. I give it a solid B+ Rating.
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Written By Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows
Rated R
Selig Rating B+
Running Time 1hr 47min
Drama / Comedy
Limited Release March 23rd The Magnolia, Angelika Film Center Plano, wider release on March 30th
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
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