June 25, 2018  (Web Review)

The Death of Stalin

Paramount, 107 min., R, DVD: $21.99, June 19

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Humorist Steve Allen once said, “Comedy equals tragedy plus time.” That is the formula behind filmmaker Armando Iannucci’s attempt to find caustic, slapstick comicality in the amoral ineptitude of high-ranking, ruthless merchants of torture and death. On March 2, 1953, the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) suffered a cerebral hemorrhage after ordering a recording of a Mozart concerto that he heard on the radio. The broadcast’s director (Paddy Considine) must reassemble the orchestra and piano soloist (Olga Kurylenko) to fulfill the tyrant’s request. Admittedly, this first, frantic sequence—a musical emergency—is amusing. Viewing Stalin’s comatose, urine-soaked body, his sycophantic Central Committee gathers to discuss what comes next, since all the good doctors have been sent to Siberia. Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), and Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) are all vying for control. When Stalin’s dead body is finally laid out for public inspection, there are complications with his neurotic daughter (Andrea Riseborough) and alcoholic son (Rupert Friend). Eventually, arrogant Khrushchev becomes the USSR’s new leader, and while attending a concert is unaware that Leonid Brezhnev (Gerald Lepkowski)—seated behind him—is plotting his downfall. Based on the 2010 graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, The Death of Stalin serves up savage satire; it’s just not very funny. A strong optional purchase. [Note: DVD extras include a “Dictators, Murderers and Comrades… Oh My!” behind-the-scenes featurette (11 min.), and deleted scenes (11 min.). Bottom line: a decent extras package for an uneven dark comedy.] (S. Granger)