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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

‘The Death of Stahlin’ Review

There is something delightfully satisfying about watching some of the cruelest politicians of the Soviet Union bumbling over each other in a farcical communist rat-race. In ”The Death of Stalin,” writer/director Armando Iannucci brings his affinity for political satire to Josef Stalin’s Russian regime in this film which explores the absurd wretchedness of fascism, the volatile danger of political power vacuums, and the harsh nature of governance. But for all its higher symbolism, ”The Death of Stalin” is, at its heart, a comedy, and in this respect it exceeds expectations.

Opening with a worried radio operator (Paddy Considine) frantically trying to recreate a live musical performance to make a record for Stalin, and intercutting between a laughable counsel meeting in which Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) entertains Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russel Beale) with crude jokes about people they’ve killed much to the discomfort of George Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), ”The Death of Stalin” immediately shows us how horrible these people are—and how funny that is. Once Stalin actually dies, the story hits full swing, as the late leader’s inner circle clashes heads while trying to show how they’re sadder than everyone else while still powerful enough to take charge. The rich comedy is accentuated as we meet Stalin’s mournful daughter Svetlana (Andrei Riseborough) and drunk son Vasily (Rupert Friend). Each member of this veteran ensemble cast plays their part perfectly, as Iannucci’s choice to have each actor speak in their natural English and American accents makes it feel all the more genuine.

But alas, as fun and funny as ”The Death of Stalin” might be, there is a dark underbelly to its story—that belly being the actual history it portrays. While the film mostly does a good job of divorcing itself from the USSR’s atrocities, that’s just not always possible, and the farce is less funny when thousands of citizens have been massacred in the streets of Moscow. As the film progresses, certain plot points begin to feel clunky, as serious bits are shoehorned in, while even in the funniest parts, external knowledge of Stalin looms overhead. Every satire of real-world history should be able to justify why this particular event is right for this particular story. ”The Death of Stalin” is a good story, but I can’t help but feel that a fictional Soviet leader might have suited it better.
“The Death of Stalin” is really good. Probably even great. It makes you laugh. It makes you think. It’s not without its faults, but it’s not defined by them either. The funny parts are hilarious, and the dreary parts don’t last too long. If you just want to laugh, this film should do. If you want something more, this film might do that too. Making a crowd-pleasing comedy out of Stalin and his cohorts is puzzle, and in ”The Death of Stalin” that puzzle is ninety percent complete.
Rating: 9/10