The Death of Stalin (2017)


(director/writer: Armando Iannucci; screenwriters: David Schneider and Ian Martin from the French graphic novel series by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin; cinematographer: Zac Nicholson; editor: Peter Lambert; music: Christopher Willis; cast: Adrian Mcloughlin (Joseph Stalin), Jeffrey Tambor (Georgy Malenkov), Steve Buscemi (Nikita Khrushchev), Olga Kurylenko (Maria Veniaminovna Yudina), Michael Palin (Vyacheslav Molotov), Simon Russell Beale (Beria), Paddy Considine (Andreyev), Andrea Riseborough (Svetlana), Rupert Friend (Vasily), Jason Isaacs (Field Marshal Zhukov), Tom Brooke (Sergei); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Kevin Loader; IFC Films; 2017)

Rousing slapstick political-comedy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Brit political satirist Armando Iannucci (“Veep”/”In The Loop”) is director and co-writer of this rousing slapstick political-comedy. It’s based on the the French graphic novel series by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, and is written byIannucci, David Schneider and Ian Martin. It’s set in the Moscow of 1953, at a time when the all-powerful Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) ruthlessly makes his cabinet agree to all his wishes. One such ludicrous command is that they must watch John Wayne Westerns.When Stalin collapses unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage one night and later in the evening is listening to a concert recording featuring the rebellious pianist Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), whose family was executed by Stalin, in retaliation she sends him a fuck-you note in the recording he demanded after the concert ended. When he reads the note it causes him to suddenly drop dead from agitation. In the morning, panic spreads to the senior members of the Council of Ministers–interim leader Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), foreign affairs minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and security chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale)– who all vie among themselves to see who will be the next leader. It results in amusing parodies of the inept politicians but still signals a period where no one is safe from all the political plotting. The one who finally prevails as leader after Stalin is dead, is the feared chief of the secret police, Beria. He’s a villain almost as revolting as Stalin. Things reach moronic heights when Stalin’s grown daughter (Andrea Riseborough) and idiot son (Rupert Friend) are counseled after their father’s death by the insincere ministers. The politicians then give Stalin a massive funeral sendoff, but the bumblers argue about who to invite and in what place of honor to put their featured guests. The lunatic Soviet government in 1953 is a stark reminder for Americans what they are experiencing now with the buffoon Trump in power. It’s as funny and cleverly done as when Chaplin and the Marx Brothers had some fun goofing on Hitler, and much sharper and funnier than the parodies on Trump by the American comedians on SNL.