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The Death of Stalin

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United Kingdom, France, Belgium · 2017
Rated R · 1h 47m
Director Armando Iannucci
Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend
Genre Comedy, History

When tyrannical dictator Josef Stalin dies in 1953, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to become the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweebish Georgy Malenkov, the wily Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrenti Beria, the sadistic secret police chief.

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What are people saying?

Billy Donoso Profile picture for Billy Donoso

'The Death of Stalin' is a movie I deeply enjoy rewatching. Its cinematography is gorgeous, the editing rapid-fire and economic, and the long conversation sequences between the main ensemble of bumbling Soviets nothing short of brilliant. There are frequent callbacks to earlier trivialities in the film that make an attentive viewing feel very rewarding, although the movie more than suffices with its audio and sight comedy. The very deliberate blocking and grand, elaborate production design in the government buildings make the movie feel stiff in exactly the right moments, while the awkward shuffling of the Doctor with his scruffy pooch and the men in the forest to get to Svetlana are equally effective at making it all seem ridiculous. I adore the committee scene in which Molotov flip flops between wanting to honor Stalin's will with wanting to honor the power of collective leadership, and there are many moments like this of misguided and absurd political idealism that Iannucci so bluntly bashes. I will say that as an outsider to Soviet history, I get the impression that this story is maybe overindulgent at times. The red screens with official quotes are visually relieving in contrast with the blue color palette of the rest of the movie, but perhaps cement it too much in reality when I feel less that I've gotten a history lesson and more that I've gone to a standup comedy routine— incredibly enjoyable but incredibly personal and dramatized. For the most part though, I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do: satirizes an oppressive regime for unfamiliar audiences to make them curious about the reality of the period after the credits roll and familiar faces become scrawled out photographs buried in history.

What are critics saying?


The A.V. Club by A.A. Dowd

The Death Of Stalin isn’t quite as pointed or rat-a-tat funny as In The Loop (or Veep at its best), but its application of [Iannucci's] signature barbed comic voice to such grim history (executions are a constant source of gallows humor) packs its own punch.


Vox by Alissa Wilkinson

The Death of Stalin is Iannucci’s most complex and almost nihilistic rendering of what politics is: A team of bumbling and weak-minded people who lack any real conviction other than a desire for power and position.


IndieWire by Eric Kohn

It’s “Veep” in the Soviet Union, a welcome expansion of Iannucci’s canvas that keeps his savage comedy intact.


The Playlist by Kevin Jagernauth

The Death Of Stalin is a grim reminder that we are never too far away from history turning back on progress. It’s not an easy lesson to reconcile, but Iannucci at least has us laughing for a good while before delivering his devastating blow.


Empire by Nick de Semlyen

Iannucci’s brand of political satire is applied to one of the darkest chapters in modern history, with sensational results. The Lives Of Others with laughs, it’s farcical, frightening and a timely reminder that things could always be worse.


The Guardian by Peter Bradshaw

The Death Of Stalin is superbly cast, and acted with icy and ruthless force by an A-list lineup. There are no weak links. Each has a plum role; each squeezes every gorgeous horrible drop.


Variety by Peter Debruge

Though sporadically brilliant, this too-often uneven send-up of Russian politics attempts to maintain the rapid-fire, semi-improvisational style of Iannucci’s earlier work...while situating such madness within an elaborately costumed and production-designed period milieu.


Screen International by Tim Grierson

The novelty of his volcanically vulgar, deeply cynical tone may have worn off some, but Iannucci has nonetheless crafted another poisonous cocktail of naked ambition and blustery bravado with a decidedly bitter aftertaste.

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