Thursday, 19 October 2017

Review: The Death Of Stalin

The Death Of Stalin
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Armando Iannucci / Trailer

Because if anyone is going to be able to blend mid 20th century Russian political satire and West End farce, it's going to be Armando Iannucci, the mind behind Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and Veep. In the company of writers David Schneider, Ian Martin and Fabien Nury, he's crafted a razor-sharp comedy which is about exactly what it says on the front, there: The Death of Stalin in Russia, 1953. It is very funny. By which I mean the film is very funny. Not the on-screen death of a 74 year old man. Although that is also very funny. In this film.

While the story takes place in its period setting, the script is interwoven with Tarantino-level bickering and a timeless British-level sarcasm (and not a cod-Russian accent to be heard, which only adds to the charm*1). The filmmakers have assembled an absolutely outstanding cast to deliver it, with everyone on blistering form. Central characters are introduced with brief in-scene title cards showing their name and position in the Soviet hierarchy, but most of what happens isn’t reliant on the audience bringing any prior knowledge. Shot in a hand-held documentary-style, the pacing for the first hour is one of escalating bedlam, with Stalin's demise creating a vacuum of both power and common-sense.

From the Act I opening of a panicked Paddy Considine, to the quiet bluster of Michael Palin and self-absorbed scheming of Simon Russell Beale, the film is the best example of institutional chaos you'll find short of the actual news. Although you might come for Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor, you'll stay for Jason Isaacs and Rupert Friend*2. In its second-hour though, the pace slows and shifts to a poignant ending I don’t think it quite pulls off. Then again, this section would probably have worked better with me if I knew anything at all about that period of history. I can’t hold Armando at fault for me not bringing any prior knowledge. Everything I saw in the meanwhile was evidence of a creative team at the top of their game.

As enjoyable as The Death Of Stalin is, Iannucci ‘s directorial home is really on the small screen. There’s little here that’s inherently cinematic, and although I’ll definitely watch it again, I doubt that will take place at the flicks.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Iannucci's aforementioned TV work.
This is quite unlike anything I've been lucky enough to see in the cinema

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you can't wait for the DVD/BRD/VOD to land in around 17 weeks.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so, although I'm perhaps not best to judge it on a content-level.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's definitely up-there.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There ain't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got The Inquisitor and Nower Jebel in it.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 To the point where it seems odd at first that Olga Kurylenko has that twang to her voice, until you remember half a second later that that's her actual Ukranian/French accent when she performs in English. [ BACK ]

*2 It's Rupert Friend who gets the best line in the film as Stalin's tantrum-prone spoilt son, coaching an ice-hockey team by essentially just yelling at them. I promise you no film this year will deliver a more sincere exasperation than "Play better, you clattering fannies!!". Priceless. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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