I don’t want my reviews to be places to places which stir up angry argument about anything other than movies. I am very politically active, but this isn’t a place for that. I like this blog to be a place where if you are left, right or centre that we can get together and agree how awful The Emoji Movie is. A truly uniting force in this divisive time. So when a movie brings up the topic of Russia considering recent news and also is about a man who for some reason is the subject of fun memes despite being a mass murdering dictator, I do fear that there will be a petition demanding that I get sacked from my own blog. So let’s do this and talk about The Death Of Stalin.
In the USSR, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin, Kingdom) rules with an iron fist. However when he dies, the committee that backed him start infighting and scheming as they all looking to become the next leader of the USSR.
When you see the name Armando Ianucci (Veep) attached, you should get what this movie is going to be like. And if you don’t, think cult TV show The Thick Of It but in Russia. The reason that show was so good was because while it was a complete farce, it felt completely realistic. Malcolm Tucker was ridiculous, but you did believe that someone like him was pulling the strings in Downing Street. And it’s the same case here. Yes, all the men featured in the movie are the higher ups on one of the most brutal regimes in history. But yet it is so believable that they act like children all because they want to be the head honcho. That’s where a lot of the quality comes from, the movie feels real despite being a massive farce that looks like it could descend into a slap fight at any time.
The main question in any comedy though is is it funny. And I’m very happy to report that The Death of Stalin is very funny. If you weren’t into the style of The Thick Of It you can check out now because this isn’t for you, but for those of us who did enjoy that movie you’ll feel right at home and laughing in no time. There is such wit to the movie and everyone has a quick one-liner which will keep you chuckling until the final big punchline is delivered at the end of the scene. And most importantly, those one-liners feel natural. The performances are all so good that it feels like natural, and rather bitchy, conversation between these people jockeying for power.
Of course when there’s a movie like this, there are some standout performances. Because while everyone does a good job, there were certain characters which just made the movie and admittedly, it were the ones that were the most cartoonish. Firstly there is Stalin’s son Vasily (Rupert Friend, Hitman: Agent 47) who is a complete drunk and has the weirdest outbursts. When he’s on screen, the movie turns completely unpredictable and the next line out of his mouth is usually hilarious. His complete insanity makes the fact that all the committee is trying to suck up to him even better because of the bizarre power balance that then occurs. And then there’s Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) who for reasons unknown, is the most northern man in the universe. And yet that works and is hilarious because his common sense just get on with it attitude is a complete contrast to the weasel words from all of the committee members. He’s a refreshing change of pace when he shows up and is then one of the funniest things in the movie to boot.
In the end though, it’s a satire of a thoroughly nasty regime. As Ianucci himself put it, Stalin has sort of got away with what he did because he is now a figure you can say you like and not be ostracized from decent society like what would happen if you said you were a fan of Adolf Hitler. And because no one’s going to watch a documentary about how evil Stalin was, there’s a tonne of them already and it’s obviously not worked, Ianucci has decided to show off how awful communism is through humour. Hey it works for John Oliver. But making out the people who ran the Communist Party to be these power hungry fools will hopefully show people that this is a terrible regime that no country should ever copy and because it’s funny and witty, it should get through to more people.
The movie however does have a few faults which stop it from being perfect. At times the movie forgets it is a comedy and goes right into just being about the plotting which while interesting, is far inferior to the wit and general silliness that is going on around them. This does mean there are some 10 minute runs where there are no laughs and the movie does have to work hard to get those laughs going again. Laughter is like a bicycle in that it often takes a lot of hard work to get it going and then you can coast for a while but if you slow down too much, you are going to have to do all that work again. This admittedly is one of the most butchered metaphors I’ve ever used but I think it works.
The Death of Stalin is another fine addition to the work Armando Ianucci has done in mocking the most powerful in our society. Like much of his previous work, he makes important figures seem as silly as us, making us laugh while considering why on Earth these people got so high up the food chain. In this movie, the concern is increased considering these people ran one of the most brutal regimes in the history of this planet. This is a very funny movie as is much of Ianucci’s stuff and I hope it is remembered for who it mocks as much as how it mocks.