Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor
Run Time: 106 mins
After a rather long hiatus from last directing In The Loop, Armando Iannucci is back with a film about Soviet Russia about the titular death of Stalin and the power battle between his confidante’s that ensues. Iannucci has great flair for coming up with sweary, sophisticated insults with his larger-than-life characters and certainly, the connection between him and Soviet Russia is one that is ripe for invention, strengthened by an A-list cast.
The Death of Stalin begins in barnstorming fashion with a brilliant extended sequence set in a radio station where Paddy Considine’s character is asked by Stalin to hand him a recording of the Mozart concert currently being performed – which bemusingly, he hasn’t been recording it and has to find alternative methods to escape not only humiliation, but more importantly his life. Although nothing can match this superb sequence, there are still some other fairly memorably amusing sequences between its buffoonish characters. The film is really quite dark at times and offers a particularly bleak view of Soviet history. This squanders the overall tone and Iannucci’s film suffers from never being quite mean-spirited or funny enough.
Fortunately, the cast more than make up for Iannucci’s shortcomings. Jeffrey Tambor perhaps gives the best performance as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s deputy who clearly seems to be having fun in the role and has some great lines. Simon Russell Beale’s repulsively nasty but humorous head who is in charge of eliminating Stalin’s threats is an equal pleasure of the film, as is Jason Isaac’s sweary Yorkshire-accented Army Chief.
The Death of Stalin is certainly an enjoyable experience which is sophisticatedly funny in parts but suffers from an unbalanced tone and not pushing the boundaries more than what the film could and should have been, based off Iannucci’s past works.