It is something of an accomplishment that director Armando Iannucci manages to undercut what is a terrifyingly true story with some great humour. The Death of Stalin is a comedy but it really shouldn’t be. This is a film about the death of a brutal dictator and the political manipulation and double-dealings that his closest advisers were doing the days after his death.
To bring this story alive is a fantastic cast. Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Whitehouse and Jason Isaacs to name a few. It is a brilliant mix of American and British cast which manage to balance the story very well. Even the fact they keep their own regional accents rather than trying faux-Russian works well too, distancing the characters.
The story itself is a compelling one. There are plenty of closed-doors dealings, double-crossing and triple-crossing. There are also moments of genuine terror, like the opening which sees an orchestra trapped inside a studio forced to replay a concert on fear of death.
All of this is constantly played to a background of humour though. This comes from the funny dialogue at times but mostly from the farcical nature of the story. Moments don’t feel like they could be true as these men are far more concerned with their own well-being than that of their leader or even their country. This leads to moments like men rushing to a dying man’s room in his pyjamas because he wants to be first there for appearances sake. This kind of farce is funny but also massively interesting.
Even though Death of Stalin is certainly a comedy and played like one in many ways, it never strays too far away from the terror when it comes. Moments of terror and brutality are demonstrated in their full gore and realism and Iannucci walks that fine line between terror and comedy expertly which makes this film so wholly watchable.
Overall, Armando Iannucci uses a fantastic cast to create a faithful retelling of a bizarre true story by balancing comedy and terror in a perfect manner. It makes for a compelling movie which has you laughing at the great dialogue but accurate farce that surrounded the brutal dictator’s death.
Rating – 5!
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