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Armando Iannucci is most familiar to TV audiences on both sides of the
pond for his cutting political satire of the likes of "Veep" and "The
Thick of It", with his only previous foray into directing movies being
"In the Loop": a spin-off of the latter series. Lovers of his work
will know that he sails very close to the wind on many occasions, such
that watching can be more of a squirm-fest than enjoyment.
It should come as no surprise then that his new film "The Death of Stalin" follows that same pattern, but transposed into the anarchic and violent world of 1950's Russia. Based on a French comic strip, the film tells the farcical goings on surrounding the last days of the great dictator in 1953. Stalin keeps distributing his "lists" of undesirables, most of who will meet unpleasant ends before the end of the night. But as Stalin suddenly shuffles off his mortal coil, the race is on among his fellow commissariat members as to who will ultimately succeed him.
The constitution dictates that Georgy Malenkov (an excellently vain and vacillating Jeffrey Tambor) secedes but, as a weak man, the job is clearly soon going to become vacant again and spy- chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) are jostling for position. (No spoilers, but you'll never guess who wins!). Colleagues including Molotov (Michael Palin) and Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse) need to decide who to side with as the machinations around Stalin's funeral become more and more desperate.
The film starts extremely strongly with the ever-excellent Paddy Considine ("Pride") playing a Radio Russia producer tasked with recording a classical concert, featuring piano virtuoso Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko, "Quantum of Solace"). A definition of paranoia in action! We then descend into the chaos of Stalin's Russia, with mass torture and execution colouring the comedy from dark-grey to charcoal- black in turns.
There is definitely comedy gold in there: Khrushchev's translation of his drunken scribblings from the night before (of things that Stalin found funny and - more importantly - things he didn't) being a high point for me. Stalin's children Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough, "Nocturnal Animals") and Vasily (Rupert Friend, "Homeland") add knockabout humour to offset the darker elements, and army chief Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs, "Harry Potter") is a riot with a no-nonsense North-of-England accent.
The film held my interest throughout, but the comedy is just so dark in places it leaves you on edge throughout. The writing is also patchy at times, with some of the lines falling to the ground as heavily as the dispatched Gulag residents.
It's not going to be for everyone, with significant violence and gruesome scenes, but go along with the black comic theme and this is a film that delivers rewards.
(For the graphical review of the movie, please visit bob-the-movie- man.com or One Mann's Movies on Facebook. Thanks).
Steve Buscemi leads an all star cast of characters in a keystone
cop-esque replication of the confusion and anarchy that followed the
death of Stalin.
Very dark and witty, but to those with knowledge of these events, so very intuitive.
This is about the steps taken by Stalin's court (The Central Committee) to secure power rather than have another strongman come in, and like Stalin did, clean house.
Listen for some very understated yet powerful lines of dialog here.
I can't wait to see it again. I am afraid of misquoting the lines that i liked so much. Many having to deal with revenge.
It must have been very daunting to make a film revolving around the
period during the death of one of the world's most notorious dictators
and mass murderers Joseph Stalin and its aftermath, and make it one
that was entertaining, clever and beautifully produced and acted while
not trivialising the horrors of the time.
'The Death of Stalin' embraced this challenge and fully succeeded in its goal. 'The Death of Stalin' was one of those films where expectations were high (considering there are some truly great actors here) and those expectations were only met but exceeded. It won't be for the faint hearted, it can be violent in a very gruesome sense. While it is very evocative and well-researched, it is history but not quite as we know it (kind of like a more sophisticated version of Horrible Histories). Some may have a problem with the film not having authentic Soviet accents, and instead a mix of English and US ones, to me this was not a problem as there are many adaptations of Russian literature that mostly don't attempt authentic accents and when they are attempted it has wildly variable results.
2017 has been a very hit and miss year from personal opinion for films. Some very good to great films and also some less than average to rubbish ones, as well as ones that fall somewhere in between. Some may say that for any year in film, but to me 2017 was one of the most hit and miss. 'The Death of Stalin' is a clear highlight. Didn't find that much wrong with it, the character of Svetlana is not as interesting and doesn't have the same depth as the rest of the characters perhaps but this is compensated by Andrea Riseborough still making the most of what she has. The occasional clunker in the writing too but they are vastly out shadowed by the rest of the script being so good.
Even with a couple of minor reservations, 'The Death of Stalin' as said succeeds in achieving a very difficult task and achieving an ideal balance. Despite how it sounds it is not even close to being as offensive as it easily could have been, making something funny out of one of the darkest (maybe the darkest though it's not in a particularly good, if nowhere near as terrible, state now either periods for Russia/The Soviet Union)on paper does not sound tasteful, but 'The Death of Stalin' splendidly works its way around that potential issue.
Visually, 'The Death of Stalin' looks beautiful. The settings and costumes are meticulous in detail and evocative, a lot of homework went into recreating this period, looking both sumptuous and atmospheric. The cinematography is fluid and natural and has the right amount of grit and audaciousness. The music has a mix of the rousing and understated.
Armando Iannucci directs with complete command and control of the subject, his trademark touches of political amorality and dark and sometimes broad but witty and offbeat humour come through loud and clear. He doesn't try to soften reality, nor does he try to make it one big joke, he could easily have done that but he doesn't and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
Further good things are a clever script that has genuinely funny moments and also some truly thought-provoking ones. As soon as the opening sequence begins and happens one knows they're in for a treat. 'The Death of Stalin' is never dull and is hugely entertaining but also has a darker edge in exploring the full terror of Soviet life during the Great Terror, struggle for power and the purge and not trivialising it, it's actually pretty harrowing and poignant.
One cannot talk about 'The Death of Stalin' without mentioning the uniformly outstanding cast, the standouts being Simon Russell Beale giving a performance of almost Shakespearean complexity and Steve Buscemi who bags some of the best moments.
Jason Isaacs steals scenes when he appears (and Paddy Considine delights in his), Andrea Riseborough makes the most of her role and Rupert Friend being this good was a pleasant surprise. Michael Palin is indeed more subdued form than usual but it suited the character and he does it perfectly, personally like that side to him. Jeffrey Tambor is great fun and Olga Kurylenko is expressive.
Summarising, really great and one of 2017's best films. 9/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Death of Stalin is one of those films you will either love or just
not get at all. Being someone with a big interest in Politics, and an
interest in the events of the Soviet Union this was always going to be
The material itself is almost frightening, some pretty horrific real life events happening, but performed in a way that you can't help but laugh at, albeit sometimes with a little dread.
Superbly written as you'd expect by Armando Iannucci, if anyone knows political satire it's him! Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale shine particularly.
It's one of those films I want to see again. 9/10
There's no avoiding truths rapidly passed over in this depiction of chaos following the death of an evil dictator. Stalin had charm...to those who were not his subjects and were never a threat to his authority. He fooled many so-called intellectuals in the West but everyone around him knew the truth, and, most managed to tip-toe over eggshells in order to stay alive. To thrive in such an environment requires a certain kind of callous ruthlessness...perfectly depicted with suitable crass humour here. The cast is perfectly chosen...each very accomplished actor adding their particular star dust. There's more than a single sittings' content in this film which deserves another viewing. Impressive and engaging story-telling based on real life events. Bravo all.
Stalin would be loving it. In 1953 when he is found flat on his back
and comatose, Stalin's corrupt, butt-kissing underlings cause chaos and
terror with their plotting and scheming to replace him. Nightmares make
more sense. Purges sweep away the unwise and unlucky, army and security
forces vie for the upper hand, prison doors open and close, executions
take place in broad daylight and back stabbing rules the day. This is
political satire at its best.
History, humor, brilliant quotes and somber visions about the past, present and future combine for a fantastic film. Truth is stranger than fiction, and one of the wonderful aspects of this film is how much the political trickery cuts to the bone. Vasily Stalin (the dictator's vodka guzzling son) gets on the podium, for instance, and military jets streak across the sky and drown out his speech. A planned distraction? Of course. Stunts like this could happen anywhere and are happening everywhere. The film rings true. It is an eye-opening and fabulous glimpse of the political underworld. This is how people get killed or locked away, when their stories don't fit. The actors are amazingly good, especially Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov, Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev and Jason Isaacs as Zhukov. If you like politics and history as much as I do, you will love this. The film is in English and a variety of accents. This device (the various accents) heightens the aspect of chaos and confusion. Seen at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Judging by the other reviews here, this seems to be a Marmite film. And that carried over to the showing I went to. It was a lunchtime showing so there weren't that many in the cinema, maybe a dozen, but often I found myself the only one laughing at the jokes. Not sure what that says about my sense of humour. But the jokes are very black. Excellent cast and performances too.
Superb script , you probably already know the actual history but the
way it's been condensed into this Film based on the French graphic
novel is superb .
This would make a fantastic stage play written in the Neil Simon style with more than a sprinkle of Shakespearean political skulduggery.
The chess game that went on in the background after Stalin's death to produce his successor from ambitious rivals who manoeuvre to protect their own skins under the pretence of doing it for the collective good .
In a period where life and death were just a word away there could only be one winner but like a Roman emperor victory can be short lived if your back is a magnet for knives !
An intelligent comic romp with excellent caricatures of the names you'll know from history that will keep you laughing from start to finish whilst educating you about this period of history .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is definitely what it says on the tin. Within minutes of the opening uncle Joe runs out of breath with the 'Commitee' running around like headless chickens in search of an axe.Laymen like me of course, will never know exactly what happened after Stalin checked into the big dacha in the sky but I'm happy to believe this version. The pace is good and the international- Michael Palinn, Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale - ensemble are all on top form. The laughs, thick and fast, and louder than bubbles in a glass of Guiness. punctuate she screenplay to a fare thee well, though it might help if they gave you time to laugh your fill at one without hitting you with the next. Da.
What makes this film special is its outstanding ensemble of character
actors. The committee room scenes in particular are a riot of jockeying
for position, snide remarks and politicking of the highest, or should
that be lowest, order. Performers of this calibre could bring even the
dullest script to life, but it so happens they have excellent material
to work with here, and they rise to it like the thoroughbreds they are.
British theatregoers will be familiar with names that are probably not at all known elsewhere: Dermot Crowley, Paul Chahidi and Karl Johnson are hugely respected in the UK for their distinguished careers on stage. Topping the lot is Simon Russell Beale, the current king of British classical acting, at last finding a film role that gives him an opportunity to show what he can do. He and Steve Buscemi are the central antagonists in THE DEATH OF STALIN, and it is a joy to watch them at each other's throats.
Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Tom Brooke...We are truly spoilt.
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