Monday, 23 October 2017

The Death of Stalin - Movie Review

Armando Iannucci has become one of the great masters of political comedy and satire ever since the creation of the utterly amazing The Thick of It in 2005. He’d been working before that, mainly with his very good work on the Alan Partridge series, but it was really The Thick of It that propelled him into comic genius, a hilarious political comedy that managed to propel Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker into fucking memetic status in the United Kingdom and providing us with many memorable moments and quotes along the way. Since The Thick of It and its cinematic adaptation In the Loop in 2009 Iannucci has been working steadily, creating the American show Veep and helping to write Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, the character’s trip to the big screen. And now he’s back headlining this new film based upon the French graphic novel of the same time, and he’s staying in his comfort zone of political comedy, albeit based on real events this time.

The Death of Stalin is pretty self-explanatory in its title about its content – it follows the death of the infamous Communist dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian Mcloughlin) in March 1953 and the subsequent power struggle for the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Russia and therefore the leader of the USSR; amongst those attempting to seize power for themselves include Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) and Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), all of whom try to navigate the difficult period following Stalin’s death and subsequent funeral whilst trying to decide who should lead the new era of the Soviet Union.

Right away it can be said that this one of the funniest movies of the year. Iannucci has proved multiple times that he’s a master of creating smart and witty dialogue that may not be the most outlandishly hilarious but will always invoke quite a bit of laughter with even some of the simplest of lines. And the movie consistently fires away on all cylinders throughout nearly all of the film; there are a few instances where the movie slows down in order to show some of the actual horrors of the Stalinist regime and the people who suffered under it to the extent where you do feel sad for those who dared to defy Stalin and paid the price for it. But these moments are few and far between as the film is occupied with making you laugh first and foremost and does an admirable job of it; this includes a lot of dark comedy where a lot of the tragedy of Stalin’s rule is wonderfully sent up as many of the associates try to wash their hands of the roles that they played during the purges and other such events. It’s all hilarious to watch as their scheming escalates through the film and it never feels too unbelievable either in spite of the strange scenarios that arise sometimes.

The incredible comedy of The Death of Stalin is assisted by a top notch cast, with many of them being some of the finest comedy actors of all time. Buscemi is always amazing in even the worst of films and he manages to bring his usual weasely spirit to the role of Khrushchev, which suits the continuously plotting nature of the character. Tambor is also hilarious as Malenkov, a somewhat dim-witted secretary who gives off an aura of not knowing what he’s doing and able to be more easily played by the rest of the cast – many of the biggest laughs of the film come from him. Beale and Palin both provide a good number of laughs as do Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough as Stalin’s rather immature children, but the standout of the film is Jason Isaacs as Red Army General Georgy Zhukov. With a broad Yorkshire accent and a gung-ho attitude despite not being quite the sharpest tool in the shed, Isaacs is a joy to watch as he commands bombast through Zhukov to hilarious results. Speaking of Yorkshire accents, it should be noted that none of the cast are putting on Russian accents which is frankly a bonus to the film – there’s no mucking around with awful sounding accents and many of the cast, including Buscemi and Palin, have wonderfully distinct voices so it’s great to hear them not disguise them with a bad accent – plus it adds to the absurd comedy vibe of the film.

The Death of Stalin is one of the funniest films of the year and is a testament to the skills of Armando Iannucci in creating wonderful politically infused comedy. He manages to take a regime as horrific as Stalin’s and spins it into an absolutely hilarious light, with his script overflowing with witty dialogue that is only made that much better by the sterling work of all of the cast. The fact that it manages to fire on all cylinders through nearly all of its 107 minute runtime shows just how great Iannucci is at creating these absurd scenarios based on real events and is thoroughly entertaining to watch all the way through.

The Death of Stalin – directed by Armando Iannucci, written by Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows, produced by Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky and Kevin Loader, starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russel Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffrey Tambor. A Main Journey/Quad Productions production, a Gaumont film

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