Movies Worth Seeing: The Death Of Stalin (2018)

Yes, every now and then, I manage to stop watching old movies and catch up on some recent ones.

And this one was great – a real must-see item. Incredibly dark and brutally funny, it depicts the panic and power jockeying that took place immediately after Stalin croaked in 1953. While it takes some license with the actual history of Khruschchev’s rise and Beria’s fall, it doesn’t matter. It would be like arguing the levels of historic accuracy versus license in any of the Monty Python films.

And in fact, this film has the feel of one of those extended Python bits that brought in some politics, like the cycling tour episode or even Life of Brian.

A lot of it has to do with the casting, including Python alum Michael Palin as a nervous yet loyal Stalinist Molotov (and that part IS historically accurate.)

The true standouts in the cast:  Jeffrey Tambor as the mealy-mouthed indecisive Malenkov, barely a few steps above Tambor’s old Hank Kingsley character from Larry Sanders, used as a puppet of sorts by Lavrentiy Beria, the monster who ran Stalin’s secret police, brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale.

Steve Buscemi plays Khruschchev as a fast-talking joke telling cynical realist, probably not too far from the truth, really.

And then as things have been zooming along with painfully hilarious scenes of party conformity and paranoia with many laugh out loud moments, Jason Isaacs shows up as sort of a superhero version of Marshall Zhukov and is just a flat out riot.

Smartly, director Armando Iannucci did not have his cast speak in Russian accents – they speak in the mix of British or American accents they bring to the table, or in the case of Isaacs, using an alternate Brit accent (Yorkish) since he thought it would make him sound tougher.

So with the dialogue sounding contemporary, petty and everyday… it all gets hysterically funny.

The brilliance of this movie is how it manages to depict the horrors of the Soviet regime and the constant waste of individual value and life – while managing to be amazingly funny. It becomes a textbook example of how to successfully pull off dark satire, using some of the darkest realities from history as its source material.

Russia banned it too! So fuck them!

I realize I don’t go to the movies very often anymore for reasons I’ve written about in earlier blog posts & reviews. Back in the day when I’d see 40-50 movies a year in theaters, this would have been one of the movies to make my top handful by the time the year-in-review rolled around. This year I didn’t waste my time with those other 39-49 films this year and saw this one this evening.

And I’ll be recommending it to everyone.


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