DEATH OF STALIN, THE
In early-1953 Moscow, under the Great Terror's heavy cloak of state paranoia, the ever-watchful Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), collapses unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage. Inevitably, when his body is discovered in the following morning, a frenetic surge of raw panic spreads like a virus in the senior members of the Council of Ministers, as they scramble to maintain order, weed out the competition, and, ultimately, take power. But in the middle of a gut-wrenching roller-coaster of incessant plotting, tireless machinations, and frail allegiances, absolutely no one is safe; not even the feared chief of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). In the end, who will prevail after the death of Stalin?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I was living more or less down the road from Moscow in Budapest when Stalin died, a historic earthquake that was felt even in our apartment. My family cheered. So did the thugs who surrounded Stalin at the centre of Soviet power, the Communist Party, although for very different reasons. We were glad the monster was dead. They were glad they could take his place. At least most them, scheming and betraying each other. Iannucci made the bravura decision to make a factual film of that event dressed in the black robe of English satire at its darkest. Surely, there was no other intelligent way to bring the story to an audience 75 years after the event. It was farcical, brutal, black.
Iannucci doubled down on his creative decision by unleashing the English cast complete with their variety of their natural accents, which carried with it the cultural overlay that gives this film its unique tone.
So it is that, for example, Jason Isaacs plays the brutish Field Marshal Zhukov like an East End thug (convincingly) and Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Kruschev like ... well, like a nervy, foul mouthed Buscemi. The humour cloaks the terrible deeds, which we are spared; suggestion a la Hitchock is the mantra for showing torture and murder.
Simon Russell Beale makes a hideously effective Lavrenti Beria - and like the others, bears no physical resemblance to the real character. He was the Lead Psychopath of his day ...
Special mention must be made of Christopher Willis' fabulous score.
Even if you lived far from Moscow in place and time, you will relate to this film, which is ultimately about character, and how human nature can be twisted by the combination of fear and greed.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you like your movies black, thought provoking and hilariously funny, you will adore this audacious, irreverent satire that delves deep into the bowels of Russian politics and picks off scabs. Based on Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin's graphic novel, In the Loop director Armando Iannucci grabs the material with glee and sets it adrift on a hyperactive, frenetic journey. Played totally straight, a top shelf cast delivers the unlikely dialogue in accents of the liquorice all-sorts variety while the in-your-face humour comprises one-liners, slapstick and farce. There is even a stutter-joke. The film flies on the wings of a chaotically brilliant music score, and never abates until the fabulous final frame.
The extraordinary thing about The Death of Stalin is how this sensitive material from events that took place not so long ago (1953, Moscow) is created into a work that resonates from an intellectual perspective to one that offers belly laughs. This gritty film is not for everyone, but for those who are in the market, there is a lot to be gained and all the risks pay off.
'How can you run and plot at the same time,' is one of my favourite lines; the absurdity of the situations coupled by the dialogue never ceases to amaze. Steve Buscemi has never been better as Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Molotov, Jason Isaac as Zhukov and Jeffrey Tambour a scenestealer as the vain Malenkov. Each member of the cast counts and Iannucci's decision to offer only suggestions of torture works to the film's advantage.
The opening scene in which Paddy Considine as the radio producer oversees a live concert featuring the glamorous Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) on piano is highly entertaining and Kurylenko has an important role to play. I laughed when Russian peasants are recruited as audience members for the repeat concert and for the arrival of the conductor in his dressing gown. Andrea Riseborough is suitably remote as Stalin's ethereal daughter Svetlana; Simon Russell Beale as the evil secret police chief and Adrian McLoughlin farcical as the moustachioed Stalin himself.
Political satire is alive and well in this cutthroat digression tinged with razor sharp blades.
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DEATH OF STALIN, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambour, Adrian McLoughlin, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Palin, Paddy Considine, Olga Kurylenko, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs
PRODUCER: Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Laurent, Zeitoun, Yann Zenou
DIRECTOR: Armando Iannucci
SCRIPT: Fabien Nury with Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin (comic book by Fabien Nury, Thierry Robin)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Zac Nicholson
EDITOR: Peter Lambert
MUSIC: Christopher Willis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cristina Casali
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 29, 2018