Thursday, March 15, 2018

‘The Death of Stalin’ is a Sick Way to Enjoy a History Lesson

Review of "The Death of Stalin"
The Death of Stalin (IFC Films)

 MOVIE REVIEW 

Of all the subjects I took in school, by far my worst subject has always been history. Maybe it was my teachers or the text books, but overall, I always found history to be boring. That might have changed if I saw The Death of Stalin years ago. The movie is a satirical comedy about real events that happened before and after the death of Soviet Leader Josef Stalin. Though you’ll probably get more out of the film if you know a little bit about the guy, but even so, I still enjoyed the movie a lot.

Though the actual events occurred over a period of months, the story of The Death of Stalin moves at a quick pace presenting the information as if it happened over a week or so. The film opens on a fun note at a concert where Maria Veniaminovn Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) is performing. Just before the closing of the concert, Stalin calls and asks for a recording of the concert. Before the audience can leave, Andreyev (Paddy Considine) orders them all back to their seats so they can get a new recording. Andreyev knows that if he fails in this mission, it will be his head. At first Maria refuses calling the leader a tyrant, but relents after a promised pay increase for the performance.

Josef Stalin (Adrain McLoughlin) died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage on March 5, 1953. His body was found by his staff the next morning face down on the rug in his office. What follows is a series of chaotic events among the Council of Ministers scrambling to get the body into Stalin’s bed so as to show the man some dignity. Next, it is decided that a good doctor should be consulted, but due to a rumor of some men wanting to poison the leader, he had all the good doctors put to death. The question rises if they should find a bad doctor then.


Then there’s the problem of who should succeed the leader Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) basically appoints himself, but the group does take a vote. The other men hungry for power “for the sake of the people” include Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) Anasta Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse) Lazar Kagnovich (Dermot Crowley) and Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin). Tambor is especially funny pretending to be confident.

Another issue to contend with is Stalin’s adult children. Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), his daughter, want to show honor to her father but also fears for her life now that he’s dead. But the real problem is her brother Vasily (Rupert Friend) who is a drunk wild card ready and willing to say inappropriate things at a moment’s notice.

Finally, Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) wears a huge array of medals on his chest to show his importance. When Khrushchev informs the marshal of some unsavory news he replies, “I'm going to have to report this conversation, threatening to do harm or obstruct any member of the Presidium in the process of...” and then starts laughing, “Look at your face!”

The dark comedy has no problem making fun of the numerous people who lost their lives or who were imprisoned during Stalin’s reign. Soldiers are given orders to shoot various people as if they were given a Starbucks order, but this light-hearted approach can only last for so long before the story sobers up a bit near the end and the realization hits that even though exaggerated, many of these terrible things actually went on.

The Death of Stalin is not rated, but trust me, the language is coarse. Surprisingly though, the violence is not. Most of the deaths occur away from the camera. While the film won’t win the “feel good movie of the year award,” it will make a history lesson a bit more fun.

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