‘The Death of Stalin’ by Armando Iannucci

Director: Armando Iannucci

Cinematography: Zac Nicholson

Writers: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Fabien Nury (author/screenplay), Thierry Robin

Stars: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale

Rating: 77

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Devilishly funny and wickedly dark, Armando Iannucci brings a certain vigor to ‘The Death of Stalin’ in which the film carries on a hectic pace delivered through a flurry of top-notch satirical actors. In some places, that pace quickens to fast and the film features a number of odd tonal shifts that take away from the main aspect of the film in the humor.

The ensemble featured plenty of comedic talent and was spearheaded by Steve Buscemi (Nikita Khrushchev) as the de facto main character as the story plays out. Buscemi was great, but the strength of the cast lied in the depth of actors. The script accounted for every single character too. Each supporting character had an almost equal role in the screenplay letting the actors let loose on each line of dialogue.


In fact, the character that forced out a joyous belly laugh, Jason Isaac (Field Marshal Zhukov) stole the entire show in a small but perfectly timed role. The moment the war hero, decorated with an overwhelming amount of medals, shows up and presents himself his presence steals the scene. And Isaac is at his best as the ironic, bloodthirsty monster that works in sync with the tone of the story. He drops some absolutely hilarious lines in this film:

Don’t mind me, just staging a coup here

Jeffrey Tambor (Georgy Melenkov) was an odd cast of the time of release, but as far as his acting skill goes in a satire where his puny, pathetic acting style is best used juxtaposed to the ruthlessness of Stalin. However, it’s not necessarily my favorite Tambor performance as it felt like a rehash of other characters. I also loved Stalin’s brash son and his dysfunctional daughter, Andrea Riseborough, who added another dimension.

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Enough about the acting, the other aspects I enjoyed were the writing and the detail and direction from Iannucci. The writing overall was quite clever, but again, while the film is meant to play as a brutally dark satire, sometimes the writing blends the line between satire and drama. It’s jarring in comparison to the wonderfully light characters and dialogue. It’s been called the “Veep of Russia” and considering Iannucci is the director of ‘Veep’ that makes a lot of sense.

The other aspect is the shining red painted on every corner of the frame. It sticks out in a good way and brings attention to the delicately crafted set. The Stalin commanding imagery is outstanding. The film pounds these images of Russian patriotism and proceeds to murder everyone on the infamous list set in the film. Satires that aren’t afraid to be dark bring such great irony to the life of the story. It amplifies the subject matter significantly, and that’s one thing this movie does well.

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While it’s all over the place at times, the quick-witted humor, viciously dark characters, and brutal ending bring this hilarious story full-circle. It’s definitely worth a visit and in the week since I’ve seen it, it has grown on me. And any Veep fans out there will feel at home with the humor and the comebacks.

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