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The Death of Stalin

also known as “La mort de Staline,” “A Morte de Estaline,” “A Morte de Stalin,” “ La muerte de Stalin,” See more »
MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for language throughout, violence and some sexual references.
not reviewed
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Dark-Comedy (satire)
1 hr. 47 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
January 19, 2018 (festival)
March 9, 2018 (limited)
April 13, 2018 (wide—330 theaters)
DVD: June 19, 2018
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Relevant Issues

The many great evils committed by Josef Stalin

The depravity of mankind

Evil dictators

The former Soviet Union

Russian history

The appalling history of Communism and totalitarian socialism

What is historically accurate and inaccurate in this film?

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Featuring Steve BuscemiNikita Khrushchev
Jeffrey TamborGeorgy Malenkov—the deputy
Adrian McLoughlin … Josef Stalin
Rupert FriendVasily Stalin—the son
Jason IsaacsField Marshal Zhukov—the General
Olga KurylenkoMaria Veniaminovna Yudina—a Soviet pianist and an uncompromising critic of the Soviet regime
Field Marshal Zhukov
Andrea Riseborough … Svetlana—the daughter
Tom Brooke … Sergei
Paddy Considine … Comrade Andreyev
Justin Edwards … Spartak Sokolov - Conductor 1
Simon Russell Beale … Lavrenti Beria—the spymaster/secret police chief
Michael Palin … Vyacheslav Molotov—Soviet diplomat and politician
Paul Whitehouse … Anastas Mikoyan—the schemer
Dermot Crowley … Lazar Kaganovich
See all »
Director Armando Iannucci—“Veep” TV series (2012-2017), “In the Loop” (2009), “The Armando Iannucci Shows” TV series (2001)
Producer Quad Productions [FR]
Main Journey [Canada]
Gaumont [France]
France 3 Cinéma [France]
Compagnie Cinématographique, La [Belgium]
Panache Productions [Belgium]
Canal+ [France]
Cine+ [France]
France Télévisions [France]
Free Range Films [Great Britain]
Title Media [Belgium]
Distributor IFC Films
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Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “When tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin dies in 1953, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to become the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweebish Georgy Malenkov, the wily Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrenti Beria—the sadistic secret police chief. As they bumble, brawl and back-stab their way to the top, the question remains—just who is running the government? This film satirically follows the Soviet dictator's last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.”

This film is based on a graphic novel by Fabien Nury.

Volunteer reviewer needed for this movie

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—Armando Iannucci is best known for comedies such as “In the Loop” and “The Thick of It” about the British and American political systems, characterized by hilarious venality and foul language. This time he has set his work in the 1950s Soviet Union, a murderous and lawless dictatorship ruled by Stalin, who lords over the sycophants under him, terrorizing them and the rest of the country, as he rounds up and murders or sends to the gulag those who he thinks have not been sufficiently obedient. How funny can this be? Often it is very funny.

Based on real events, if in a compressed time frame, Iannucci skewers the fools and knaves as they accommodate to power and then try to seize it. After an amazingly absurd sequence where radio announcers must record a concert that Stalin heard broadcast and wants a copy of, by forcing the orchestra to stay late and play it all over again (with a substitute conductor dragged in in his pajamas and peasants hauled off the streets to stand and applaud. “No one is going to be killed here, it is just a musical emergency”), the dictator is felled by a stroke.

His underlings at the Central Committee (a marvellous ensemble case with Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin being the best known, but Simon Russell Beale and Andrea Risenborough standing out as well), can not figure out whether to call a doctor (most have been murdered or sent to the gulag) as they plot how to survive his potential recovery or take over after his demise.

After Stalin’s death the villainous Beria seeks to manipulate the figurehead Malenkov while assigning rival Khrushchev to the insignificant job of planning the funeral and choosing the curtains.

Gulags, roundups and shootings are never far from the scene and, particularly at the end with coup, countercoup and kangaroo court the thick of it is very thick indeed. Ultimately the film is a mix of the horror of dictatorship with Iannucci’s typical political shenanigans from less malevolent systems. Since today’s headlines are full of North Korea, Syria and other authoritarian systems, whose inner workings we often fail to understand, it may be good to laugh at the various banalities of evil as set forth here.

Ultimately Christians, who have an uneasy relationship with government, how its leaders operate and how to choose between “evils” in the interest of a greater good, should recognize the importance of rights for all and restrictions on the powers of the mighty. The film is a reminder of what happens when that is not the case and how easily people can find reasons to justify it, whether from ideology or ambition. Evil is and has been real and looks bad.

Religion does not play much part in this film (Beria has allowed the Orthodox bishops in their traditional dress and beards, to attend Stalin’s funeral, mostly to curry public favor) and there is plenty of cussing, although less than in Iannucci’s other works, and generally representing the venality of the characters.

Beria turns out to have pedophilia in addition to his other evils. And as happens among the kings of ancient Israel and since, transformations of power can easily be accompanied by violence and murder.

Hopefully readers of this site will be reminded of why democracy and human rights need to be realities.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Stanley Hirtle, age 72 (USA)

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Secular Movie Critics
…“The Death Of Stalin” is superbly cast, and acted with icy and ruthless force by an A-list lineup. There are no weak links. Each has a plum role; each squeezes every gorgeous horrible drop. …
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)
…a lacerating look at the regime of an overweight bully who demands unthinking loyalty and expects reality to conform to his every dictum… As amusingly engrossing as you'd expect …
John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
…Mordant in the extreme, and often hilarious, The Death of Stalin somehow manages to acknowledge the murderous depths of Josef Stalin’s regime while rising to the level of incisive, even invigorating political satire. …
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
…a comic coup… suspenseful enough to make this the rare satire that never wears out its welcome… There is one thing that power can’t stand, and that is to be mocked: The social importance of this topical romp should not be underestimated. …[4]
Kate Taylor, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
…“The Death of Stalin” is by turns entertaining and unsettling, with laughs that morph into gasps and uneasy gasps that erupt into queasy, choking laughs. …
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
…Like Orwell on helium, this reimagining of Stalin’s demise and the subsequent ideological gymnastics of his scheming acolytes is daring, quick-fire and appallingly funny. …
Phil de Semlyen Time Out London
…“The Death of Stalin” is explicit content music to the ears of comedy buffs, a torrent of gutter wordsmithery unleashed by a bawdy ensemble. …
Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times
…Lots of movies mix comedy and horror. But Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin makes real-life horrors the source of hilarity — and it is hilarious — while never making light of the insanity that inspired it. …
Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic
…every gag is girded with fear. The humor is so black that it might have been pumped out of the ground. …
Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
…For all the pratfalls, this is a grim, dispiriting work. It dares not to be liked, and there’s a lot to like in that daringness. …
Kimberley Jones, The Austin Chronicle