Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Death of Stalin


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

When it comes to satire these days, Armando Iannucci is the master. From TV shows like The Thick of It & Veep to the film In the Loop, the Scottish satirist has always been at the top of his form, only getting funnier & funnier as he creates more & more satires of past & present governments around the world.

The Death of Stalin is easily Iannucci's best work. It's Iannucci at his most biting, at his most detailed, &, most importantly, his most hilarious. Based on the 2010 graphic novel La mort du Staline by Fabien Nury & Theirry Robin, & set in 1953 Russia, the film follows various members of the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin (played by Adrian McLoughlin). One night, Stalin, calling from his home, orders a recording of a Mozart recital, which was not recorded. Comrade Andreyev (played by Paddy Considine) quickly tries to get the crowd back into the arena to replicate a large crowd, even going as far as getting people walking outside to come in, & replacing the passed-out conductor with a merely adequate conductor. The pianist, Maria Yudina (played by Olga Kurylenko), leaves a message for Stalin in the sleeve of the recording.

After Stalin puts on the recording, he notices the message on the floor. While reading the message, Stalin bursts out laughing... then collapses from a cerebral hemorrhage. The next morning, the first to arrive is NKVD Head Lavrentiy Beria (played by Simon Russell Beale), who discovers the message. Next to arrive is the meek Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (played by Jeffrey Tambor). Beria tries to guide Malenkov into taking Stalin's place, trying to use him as a puppet.

Next to arrive is Moscow Party Head Nikita Khruschev (played by Steve Buscemi), along with the remainder of the Central Committee, except for Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (played by Michael Palin), who was put on a list of Stalin's enemies just the previous night. Beria decides to have the NKVD replace the Soviet Army at their posts, close Moscow's borders, & to replace Stalin's enemy lists with his own, effectively removing Molotov from the list.

Eventually, Stalin dies. Around that time, Stalin's daughter, Svetlana (played by Andrea Riseborough), & Stalin's belligerent son, Vitaly (played by Rupert Friend), arrive. As the state funeral grows closer, & more & more dignitaries arrive, including war hero Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov (played by Jason Isaacs), the infighting between the various politicians reaches a boiling point, where everyone wants a seat at the top.

The cast is fantastic. Steve Buscemi is completely spectacular here. Simon Russell Beale is both hilarious & dangerous. Jeffrey Tambor is hilariously awkward. Jason Isaacs is brilliantly funnyAnd it's great to see Michael Palin in something again.

Armando Iannucci's direction is excellent. Iannucci's decision to have his actors keep their regular accents only adds to the excellent humor here. Also, he doesn't shy away from the countless atrocities committed by Stalin during his reign of terror in the Soviet Union.

The screenplay by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin & Peter Fellows is brilliant. Alongside their faithful adaptation of Nury & Robin's graphic novel, the dialogue is some of the funniest ever. The lines always pack more than several humongous laughs.

Suzie Harman's costume design is amazing. The costumes are period-accurate, from the elegant clothing of the Soviet autocracy to the ragged clothing of the Soviet citizens.

Cristina Casali's production design is excellent. The sets are also period-accurate, especially the elegant sets of the huge Soviet government buildings.

The makeup & hairstyling is phenomenal. It is not only period-accurate, but also, in some cases, hysterically funny, especially with Jeffrey Tambor's hilarious wig.

And Christopher Willis's score is amazing. Buoyed by sections of low-brass instruments & sections of string instruments, the score compliments the tense feeling of the Soviet government after Stalin's death.

This is one of the funniest films in recent memory. Along with being Iannucci's best work, this is a biting reminder of a hectic political era, something that seems all too familiar in America today.

The Death of Stalin was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, March 23, 2018. It is currently in 7 theaters in the Detroit area, including the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI; the AMC Livonia 20 in Livonia, MI; & the Rave Cinemas Ann Arbor 20 in Ypsilanti, MI. Its runtime is 107 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, violence & some sexual references.

No comments:

Post a Comment