With the way the world has been politically lately – what with the controversial President Donald Trump and the even more controversial post-Brexit Britain – it makes sense that we now get a political parody film. Luckily, Armando Iannucci, the creator of Alan Partridge and The Thick of It, and director of In the Loop, has been more than happy to oblige. Iannucci’s films always being simulations grittily realistic and as hilarious as a Monty Python feature – this is clearly a man of unique story-telling talent. It is refreshing to see such talent back in the fray – and after seeing The Death of Stalin, it’s hard to imagine a better fitting director for such a feature.
The Death of Stalin is based off the graphic novel of the same name – which I hadn’t heard of to be honest. It depicts the events set in motion after the death of the Soviet Union’s dictator, Joseph Stalin. All of the political manoeuvring and backstabbing; the diabolical acts of the secret police and armed forces; the weakness of some politicians and the craftiness of others. Above all, it’s a film that depicts the fear and uncertainty of a country that had no idea of what came next. And it is told with depth and respect, and with the same cheeky humour that made audiences everywhere fall in love with Monty Python’s the Life of Brian.
You can’t watch this film without recognising the fact that it and In the Loop – a parody of the politics behind the Afghanistan wars – share the same writer/director. I watch The Thick of It fairly often and I am certain that it is not dissimilar from what parliament is actually like. I feel the same way here. As overplayed as it is, the subject is also given a dark edge that makes me believe that this is very much how events might have played out. I can’t really remember the last time I saw a black comedy blend belly-aching laughter with genuine, edge-of-the-seat tension so well. The almost documentary style filmmaking gives The Death of Stalin just the right amount of surreal believability.
The script for The Death of Stalin is one of the best the year has given us. Everything was so natural that it all felt real. To call it smart would be a colossal understatement. You will laugh. You will laugh a lot. But at the same time, you will understand what the characters are going through completely. More likely than not because you have felt the same way with certain events over the past few years. I have to give credit to the script and especially the actors for the work they did for these characters. Every single character depicted is a despicable human-being. They were monsters working for a tyrant. But, despite that, they just ooze charisma and somehow get you rooting for each and every one of them.
It does help that the cast includes Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs and Monty Python’s own Michael Palin. These are not only actors who know the importance of comedic timing and dramatic depth, they are also among the greatest character actors in the business today. The limelight ultimately falls onto Buscemi and Beale as Nikita Khrushchev and Laventiy Beria. These are two opposing forces who both have the same ultimate goal and aim to achieve it the same way as the other – by trying to bring the other crashing down as they raise up. It’s as intricate as early seasons of Game of Thrones and is just as, if not more enjoyable. I did, however, find Isaacs to be the films highlight. His role is of a disgruntled general, with a weird Yorkshire accent considering that this is Russia. I loved every second of his screen time as he never failed to make me laugh.
I am not an expert in Soviet Russian history – in fact I’m barely a novice – so I cannot say for certain if you would learn something from this film or not. But from where I do stand, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the film is educational. The humour would certainly help the lessons of the past stick in your mind. Iannucci’s directing certainly gives such an effect to the film. Funny and smart are the two words I can give to this film above all others. It’s not a film for its story, outside of Stalin’s death and the aftermath there’s practically no story. It’s a film for it’s characters. Horrible as they are, you latch onto them from interest alone. Solid performances definitely helping out.
I feel that this is a film that will be seen as a comedy cult classic, just as In the Loop is. And rightfully so I think. A perfect marriage of thrilling drama and satirical comedy, The Death of Stalin is a comedy I would recommend to anybody. There really isn’t anything wrong with it outside of nit-picking. It sets out to do something and it does it superbly. I might have come off a bit vague here, but that’s only because I do not wish to spoil much of a great film. Find some time and get it watched, there’s no quicker cure for stress and boredom.
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