Irreverent, totally off-the-wall, and exaggerated are the good things about the dark comedy Death of Stalin. The film goes bonkers on the Russian regime lead by Stalin as they picture the death of their leader in 1953. In actuality when the Soviet leader died rumors were rampant on whether it was ordinary or murder; well, this film isn’t going to answer that question, but it’ll lay to rest the madness of it all. You don’t have to be a historian to enjoy the film, just be able sit back and laugh at what may or may not have taken place.
The head of the Russian USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin has taken ill, and those who are the most important to his reign are buzzing on whether he will live or die. They all have an invested reason why each of them want to see him live or die, but mostly they would rather have the tyrant out of office. Those among them with the most to gain by his death are Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and head of Russia’s secret service Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Each time Stalin’s health starts to fail him, the three and close relatives gather to check the odds and hover over him like vultures.
The film takes a few turns of events and some opportunities as it progresses to the next stage of Stalin’s death. Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci does a very good job of making the film very funny in the beginning, and then it tapers off to a more sedate finale. If you know the characters and how they fit into the puzzle, it really isn’t a bad film, but if you don’t it may be a stretch on why you would laugh at them. Political history folks should get a kick out of it, and also those who know what happens involving America after the dictator dies. Most of the film’s gags involve cronyism and political advancement, but the satire alone involving the main antagonists makes the film work.
The best of the film centers on Steve Buscemi, who plays the sneaky Nikita Khrushchev, who wavers back and forth between making his comments in favor of the current government under Stalin and whether it would be a good thing that he just pass on. He’s a devious person, but supports the weakest possible candidate to replace Stalin, because he knows that guy will not last long in the role of the head of the biggest republic in the world.
If you are into political comedy or just want to see some of your favorite actors putting their talents to something different, then this film is a must-see. Death of Stalin has been rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual references. It’s based on a French graphic novel of the same name.
Now for some information that you may not have or may have known about Russia during 1953. In that year Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin had been serving his term of office as head of the USSR and had been in supreme power from 1941 until his death. At the time of his death there were several powerful men trying to vie for his post. There were Georgy Maximilianovich Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), who headed up the Soviet missile program during WWII and oversaw the Communist Party Records that put him in a line for taking over if Stalin died. Also in the picture we are introduced to Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) who after the two-year reign of Georgy Maximilianovich Malenkov becomes the leader of the Communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He is best known for the Cuban Missile Crisis the USA had to deal with under President John F. Kennedy. Although this film is just a parody of the Russian government, knowing the importance of the characters involved is important to the film.
Pick it up only if you like political satire. The DVD contains an 11-minute making-of feature and another 11 minutes of deleted scenes. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film, as it does have some scenes that are inappropriate for youngsters.