The Death of Stalin: A Historical Satire That Swings For The Rafters
Review by Aaron Haughton
The Death of Stalin is an ambitious and surprising historical satire from writer/director Armando Iannucci (In the Loop, HBO's Veep) based on the French graphic novel La mort de Staline. Equal parts comedy and tragedy, the film is essentially a combination of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, and the Monty Python films. The trailer makes it seem like an uproarious romp, which it is; however, what's harder to convey in that short amount of time is just how much truth and horror lurks behind the comedic blows.
I have to admit that I'm not the biggest history buff, so some of the comedy just might have flown right over my head, but even then, I laughed early and often in this amusingly odd farce. As I was watching it, however, I wondered if I'd laugh harder and more frequently if I was in on the film's historical background. It turns out that I probably would have. The astounding thing about this film is that it's steeped in reality. The actual story around the death of Joseph Stalin was so outlandish that the film even had to dilute history a bit (there was actually a third conductor that had to be brought in for the re-recording of the symphony).
The film is very upfront with its silliness, completely abandoning the facade of actor's donning false Russian accents, which can be a bit jarring, but allows the comedy to breathe. Iannucci discussed this decision in a recent interview: “I felt Russian accents would just kill the comedy dead. It makes the whole thing artificial. It makes you feel like you’re not there. And I want people to feel like they’re there.”
The performances in the film are remarkable, and the chemistry the cast shares is delightful, even if it's savage as hell. The power struggles that unfold are both subtle and overt comedic gold. The writing here is razor sharp, sardonic and witty, and Iannucci dissects each individual with ruthless examination. Even if you're not well versed in Russian history, you can easily see a version of this playing out with the Trump administration, and that's a scary thing. It's an amusing cautionary tale of Marxism with a Marx Brothers twist.
This is a film that won't be everyone's cup of tea, but historians and fans of Iannucci's past work will definitely get a kick out of this, which just may be his greatest work to date. Is it the funniest movie all year? Not for me, but it is always amusing and never dull. There's enough humor here to engage just about anyone, history background or not.
Rating: 3.5 spit fails outta 5.
What do you think? Do you think The Death of Stalin is Iannucci's best work? Was it as uproarious as you expected? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!