When a comedy is titled The Death of Stalin, you’d imagine it won’t be met with a lighthearted touch. Director/writer Armando Iannucci brings a playful retelling of history which centers around how communist Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin dies and the shenanigans that happen as a result.
There’s nothing terrible about The Death of Stalin. There are very well-written sequences that really are front-loaded at the beginning of this film, but some find their way into the second half. I imagine that this is nothing close to being historically accurate, but our tale begins with Stalin demanding a recording of a local orchestra’s performance. The audio supervisor (Paddy Considine) scrambles to re-do the live performance, all in the name of not being killed because they failed to execute Stalin’s orders. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the film: funny, witty and dark. It’s after the middle of the film that we begin to see point-blank executions, but how oppressed these citizens are at the start of this film is horrifying in its own right.
The film teases a later plot point with pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) writing a note to Stalin, which kills him upon reading from shock and awe. I loved Kurylenko’s short stint in this film, and it’s good to see her in a notable role for the first time in a little while. Outside of her performance, there are still gems to be found, especially with actor Steve Buscemi. This film slowly transitions from centering around the heir to Stalin, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), to Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi), and it works. Actor Simon Russell Beale also chimes in with a wonderfully funny portrayl of Lavrenti Beria. He was the best display of acting in The Death of Stalin by a mile, even with Buscemi delivering a comfortable performance.
Khrushchev has had enough of Stalin’s inhumane regime and wants change, which The Death of Stalin quickly focuses on for the majority of its second act. Side note: I did love how Buscemi and Tambor maintained their American accents because it presented a funny contrast to the rest of the film, almost as if they were out-of-place scene after scene. That works here, along with plenty other gags. The rest of Tambor’s shtick? Eh…
However, the middle of the film also presents the first of few subsequent lulls. I was less amused by the intricacies of how the committee would function following Stalin’s death and more interested in the funny execution of it all. There were four screenwriters (David Schneider, Ian Martin, Iannucci and Peter Fellows) and, at times, the writing did feel conflicted. Heck, the film even strays from the major plot point long enough that when it does try to bring it back into the limelight, the moment feels forced. The film attempts to rekindle the early humor found in the first half with the funeral scene, for instance, where mishaps occur.
I’d say the film is also drags a bit. Its one hour and 47 minute-run time is not long on paper, but it most definitely felt that way once the end credits ran.
The Death of Stalin truly doesn’t suck, however, and it’s worth a watch for some quality laughs. I just wish the direction followed more of its first act than what we saw in the last half.
I was given a screener of The Death of Stalin thanks to IFC Films and Jan Mitchell & Associates.
The Death of Stalin is rated-R, runs 1 hour and 47 minutes and can be found at the following theaters:
OPENS MARCH 23
Miami: Landmark at Merrick Park, Regal South Beach 18, AMC Aventura
Broward: The Classic Gateway Theatre
Orlando: Enzian Theatre (additional theaters open March 30)
OPENS MARCH 30
Orlando: Regal Winter Park, AMC Universal Cineplex 20
Miami: O Cinema Miami Beach, AMC Sunset Place
Fort Lauderdale: Regal Magnolia Place 16, Regal Oakwood 18, Regal Westfork 13
Palm Beach County: Regal Shadowood Boca Raton, Downtown at the Mall Gardens Palm 16
Naples: Silverspot Cinema
Tampa/St. Petersburg: AMC Veterans 24, AMC Sundial 19, Cinebistro @ Hyde Park 6
Sarasota: Burns Court
OPENS APRIL 6
Jacksonville: Sun-Ray Cinema, AMC Orange Park 24 Theatres
OPENING DATES TBD