Film Review: The Death of Stalin (2017)

2017 in Cinema:

The Death of Stalin, 2017

Directed by: Armando Iannucci

Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor


The Death of Stalin is about … well, the death of Joseph Stalin (Adrian Mcloughlin). We first meet him as he demands a company performs another orchestral performance of Mozart (as the first one wasn’t recorded). After getting the recording and playing it, he dies. The rest of the film follows through, in a comedic way, the after effects of Stalin’s death; from his successor to the in-fighting between the close allies of his and the changes in policies that he had put into place.

The biggest compliment I can issue the film is that, at times, it is really funny, and, for a comedy, that’s what it needs. It’s also quite well acted; none of the characters are too serious or too goofy and they all play their roles quite believable. And I loved Jason Isaacs’s performance as Georgy Zhukov; just the way he sounded, acted and his dialogue, he was easily the funniest character to me. And some of the scenes, as touched on, were hilarious. While the style of comedy isn’t exactly mine, some of it was unquestionably funny; and little moments such as Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) requesting the exact girl as one who took a picture with Stalin some years prior and his dismissal of similar-looking young girls was funny in the way it came across. It nicely combines spoken jokes with jokes created by the scene.

The plot also flows quite nicely, even if they feel they need messages to inform us of why something is now happening. It’s about the in-fighting between two wannabe leaders of the Soviet Union and the changes in the ways Stalin was running things; such as stopping the lists of murders. However, overall, I disliked this film. Maybe ‘dislike’ is a strong term, but I just wasn’t entertained throughout. Yes, there were some hilarious moments, but they were too few and far between for my liking, and most of the jokes in-between were one person insulting another, which is quite a poor way of creating humour. Calling someone stupid, or fat, or ugly does show that their material wasn’t funny enough that they needed these cheap jokes to fill the film out, but it just came across as boring hearing these jokes which weren’t funny.

And the plot wasn’t very strong, either. It’s a lot of in-fighting between politicians, and, unless you’re fully clued up on your Russian history, a lot of it isn’t explained. There’s jokes which half the audience laughed at where you could feel the other half’s confusion (I’m not going to say which half I was on). There’s unnecessary characters added, too (there were a lot of characters, too, which didn’t help).

But the biggest gripe I had about this film was, to me at least, I couldn’t tell what type of tone they were going for. At the start it nicely introduces us to Stalin and shows through his actions the power he holds over people, while the radio company’s scrambling to get another performance done (which includes bringing homeless people and those doing their washing in off the streets and a conductor who has only just been woken up) shows the comedy. This was okay, a little confusing the contrasting tones, but it was okay. Then throughout the film there are messages of what truly happens in real life should something like this happen (‘his body will be left for three days’, etc.), but these messages sounded like the film was in a serious tone. It may be just me but if the film is telling me an official law about the aftermath of the death of a leader, especially considering it’s based on a real person who really died, it comes across as serious. But then there’s one man awkwardly moving step-by-step to be closer to someone else to avoid passing a conversation on from one man to the next. And the political actions that happen later on in the film (and the countless murders at the start) also contrast with the comedic tone they try to create. It’s receiving tons of praise as a film, but it didn’t connect with me. Like I’ve said, it may be my style of comedy is different to what Armando Iannucci and co. have delivered here.

An okay film to watch, in my opinion, but one, I feel, will rest on whether their comedy style and history (I’ve never really been a fan of the Alan Partridge series and I know Iannucci had a hand in those). A finely acted film with a nicely moving plot, and some hilarious jokes, but those moments of excitement are few and far between.


Plot: * *     Acting: * * *     Writing: * *     Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * ½

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