Review: The Death of Stalin (TIFF)

The Death of Stalin (TIFF)
8 10

PLOT: The death of Joseph Stalin creates a power struggle in the Kremlin, with Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi) and NKVD head Beria (Simon Russell Beale) among those trying to fill the vacuum.

REVIEW: After several years occupying himself with HBO’s “Veep”, IN THE LOOP director Armando Iannucci returns to the big screen with another political satire, albeit a change-of-pace, in that his skewed view is turned to the past rather than the contemporary west. While it might seem a bit of a stretch, there’s a method to this particular sort of madness, in that Iannucci, more than anything, draws parallels between contemporary politics and now extinct oppressive regimes, arguing that one isn’t necessarily that different from the other.

Seeming a lot more Pythonesque than his previous work (with cast-member Michael Palin adding to that vibe), this is a historical tale like you’ve never seen. The (foul) language is contemporary, and none of the leads try to cover up their accents, playing hilariously skewed versions of their historical characters, and the end is a history lesson that’s among the most unique ever put to film.

One should get this isn’t going to be a typical tale right from the start, with Kruschev and Beria chest-bumping each other while dropping F-bombs for the amused Stalin, who forces them all to sit through American B-westerns (a real thing) and threatens each with ending up on his enemies list (meaning death or exile) upon the slightest provocation. He’s so dreaded that when he requests a recorded concerto from a harried Radio Moscow operator (Paddy Considine), he forces the whole orchestra to play again, lest they all be killed if he admits they neglected to record it.

As per the title, it’s not long before he keels over, and that’s when the fun starts. That’s when Stalin’s cabinet starts a mad attempt to usurp each other with Jeffrey Tambor’s idiotic Malenkov agreed upon as the new figurehead, while Khruschev and Beria try to outwit each other to be the power behind the throne. Steve Buscemi plays Khruschev as scrappy and relatively sane, although hs complicity in Stalin’s crimes are never downplayed (the purges are shown - often in gruesome detail). Still, he seems like the lesser of two evils next to the perverted Beria, a show-stopping performance by Simon Russell Beale, with Beria using his power to gleefully torture and rape his way through all of his prisoners - but lest you think this kind of person makes an odd addition to a comedy, well, er, you’d be right. It’s just that Iannucci creates such a bizarre pageant of madness, veering from slapstick (as they try to move Stalin’s body) to witty verbal jousts, it can’t help but work.

The casting is impeccable, with everyone excellent, from Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s mad children, to Jason Isaacs as the frat-boy-like head of the Russian army. Iannucci’s sense of comedy is so specific that, in anyone else’s hands, THE DEATH OF STALIN couldn’t possibly have worked. But, it really does come off beautifully, and ranks among the funniest, smartest comedies to hit the screen in ages.

Source: JoBlo.com



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