Movie Review: The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin is a movie about the power struggles among the Central Committee in the Soviet Union when Stalin, well, dies. (Spoiler alert?) It’s a black comedy directed by the same person who did the show Veep, if you’ve heard of that. (I’ve heard of it but haven’t actually seen it; nevertheless, the comparison still helped going in.)

Honestly, the movie was a little too dark for my tastes. A lot of the humor involves violence, or juxtapositions of the mundane against violence, or the Committee members making jokes about violence; what didn’t have to do with violence was usually mocking someone for their incompetency. This doesn’t mean the film didn’t have scenes it took seriously, because it certainly did, but the parts that were supposed to be breaks from those scenes…weren’t, always. At least not for me.

The cinematography and editing was good; the music was good. The acting was fine, though you could tell that the main characters were archetypes anyway. (Not that I know much about what the real people were known for.) The story and plot arc was well-set-up and well-executed. …pun intended.

Afterwards, I spotted (…on Wikipedia) that there were criticisms from the Russian government for the movie’s unflattering depiction of several figures in 20th-century Russian history, particularly from a timespan that people living today still remember. I can’t really say that’s unfounded, though at the same time there certainly was a power struggle that ended up with Khrushchev in charge. (Or at least, so I learned in school and see online now.) It’s hard to tell when it’s okay to treat historical figures so irreverantly, and certainly more complicated when they’re not your culture’s historical figures. (The director, Iannucci, is Scottish, and the film was an adaptation of a French graphic novel.)

So, will you enjoy it? If you like political satire and shows like Veep, and the above objection doesn’t bother you, then probably yes. But do be ready for a fair amount of violence and death just offscreen.