The Death of Stalin (2017)

The Death of Stalin
Director: Armando Iannucci
Writer: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows
Based on: Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s graphic novel La Mort de Staline
Cast: Adrian McLoughlin, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Brooke, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Andrea Riseborough
Seen on: 11.4.2018

Plot:
1953 in Moscow. Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) has been in power for decades. But now he suddenly dies, leaving a power vacuum that demands to be filled. His right hand men, the Council of Ministers, try to strike the balance between appearing to grieve, not panicking and grabbing for power. Lavrentia Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) quickly become the heads of the biggest two camps in that fight.

I wanted to like The Death of Stalin more than I actually did. It’s well made, of that there’s no doubt, but I was partly very uncomfortable about the jokes they cracked that I felt made light of things nobdy should make light of.

It probably comes as no suprise that the cast is really good (although it is a man’s world that leaves barely any room for women), delivering strong, self-assured performances. Especially Jason Isaacs’ great supporting role is a full success. They also made the excellent decision to shoot in plain English instead of English with a Russian accent (as English language films set in other countries so often do and it ALWAYS sucks).

And I have to admit that there were many moments where the film strikes the right tone of humor, hitting on the absurdity of the entire situation. (I have been told that the film was pretty historically accurate in its setting, which makes the entire thing even more hair-raising.)

But at the same time many of the jokes left me very uncomfortable. On the one hand, I felt that these powerful men who were responsible for so much death and destruction were ridiculed in a way that covered up all the horrible things they did and commanded, ultimately making their crimes seem irrelevant somehow. On the other hand – and that ties into that feeling of irrelevance – they joked too much about the atrocities themselves. In the middle of the film I started to wonder if I really wanted to laugh about executions and gulags? And the answer is plain and simple: no. I really don’t.

That I then fell asleep for a bit towards the end (which is not necessarily the film’s fault, I’m just tired a lot), didn’t help things either. In the end I was left feeling less amused and more uncomfortable. And since that’s not what the film was going for at all, it does ultimately fall flat.

Summarizing: Not my cup of tea.

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