The Death of Stalin is a blistering satire and coal-black comedy that chronicled the actual events surrounding the death of one of the most evil human beings in history. Armando Iannucci created a film that made genocide, gulags, random murder, child rape, high-level paranoia, backstabbing and paralyzing incompetence, all hilarious.
After the death of Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), his key Ministers began to spin in a constant state of inept paranoia, not knowing whether or not they should even acknowledge his death. No one would say that the Emperor had no clothes, much less that he was DEAD. They even had difficulty procuring a physician or coroner because “All the best doctors are in the gulag, or dead!” stated an exasperated Lazar Kaganovich.
The first order of business from Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) was not to seek medical attention for the dictator, who had just suffered a devastating stroke, but to steal dossiers and documents that had dirt on his fellow Ministers. Beria was the powerful State Security Marshal and head of the dreaded KGB Secret Police. He was a greatly feared villain among villains. Stalin was the only person in the U.S.S.R. that was safe from this Russian Himmler, and now Stalin was dead.
The other Ministers included – Nikita Khrushchev-The First Secretary (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov- First Minister to Stalin (Jeffrey Tambor), Vyacheslav Molotov- Secretary of Foreign Affairs (Michael Palin), Anastas Mikoyan -Minister of Trade (Paul Whitehouse), Lazar Kaganovich -Minister for Labor (Dermot Crowley), and Nicolai Bulganin -Minister of Defense (Paul Chahidi). The posturing of the Ministers to fill the huge void left from the fallen dictator was the very essence of this unique and gutsy film. Rounding out the rest of the cast was Vasily Stalin -Stalin’s alcoholic and unhinged son (Rupert Friend), Svetlana -Stalin’s emotional daughter ( Andrea Riseborough), and Field Marshal Zhukov -War hero (Jason Isaacs) The stellar cast was icily ruthless and hilarious as they portrayed the ensuing power struggle after Stalin’s sudden death. There were no weak links in this stable of actors.
From the very beginning, the movie was filled with nervous, but often-time hilarious tension. Woven into all the absurdity and humor is the horror of the historical authenticity of this deadly period in Russian history. No one was safe from fear, imprisonment, torture and execution, not even Stalin’s top Ministers. All of the performances were amazing, but Simon Russell Beale stole the movie as the virtual Minister of Terror. This thug easily pushed around Stalin’s successor, but ran into a little more than he was used to handling with Khrushchev and the fearless Field Marshal Zhukuv. The slapstick continued throughout the movie, even with the very real roundups, torture and executions. The final scenes in the movie, however, brought on the sobering reality of this dark chapter in Russian history.
The Death of Stalin will not be for everyone, but this one hit all the spots for me. These real characters in history were as ruthless as they come, but the presentation by Iannucci of these bumbling thugs worked magically. Somehow, this blackest of films can be watched and enjoyed without remorse or the somber reflection that these events actually happened. This movie exemplifies film-making craft at its finest. If you are not a party line purist, this one is for you.
Quotes and One-Liners:
- “Our General Secretary is lying in a puddle of indignity.” – Nikita Khrushchev
- “You’re not even a person, you’re a testicle.” – Vasily Stalin
- “I’ve had nightmares that made more sense than this.” -Kaganovich
- “I’m a peacemaker and I will fuck over anyone who gets in my way.” – Nikita Khrushchev
- “I took Germany, I think I can take a flesh lump in a waistcoat.” – Field Marshal Zhukov
- “Jesus Christ, did Coco Chanel take a shit on your head?” – Field Marshal Zhukov
- “I know the drill. Shake their hands and try not to call them cunts.” -Vasily Stalin
- “I thought we had banned those freaks (referring to the priests).” -Kaganovich
- “Do you think I wanted those boyfriends of Christ to be here? Baria invited them.” -Nikita Khrushchev
- “It’s lucky we both now live in the new Soviet Union or you and your wife and your family would be a pile of dust on the floor of a crematorium toilet.” – Lavrentiy Beria
- “You’re the coach. Coach them to be as good as the dead team or I’ll have you killed.” – Valisy Stalin
- “If things go badly, then we shoot her. You see? Things go better as a committee.” -Georgy Malenkov
- “Executions are to stop [Blam!]… immediately.” -Soldier at Siberian Prison Camp to another soldier who is systematically shooting prisoners in the head.
- “What’s one got to do to get some lubrication around here?” – Field Marshal Zhukov
- “I’ve been picking out funeral cushions with slim Hitler over there, and you’ve done what?”-Khrushchev to Beria on halting train traffic into Moscow.
- “I want to make a speech at my fathers funeral!” – Vasily Stalin… “And I want to fuck Grace Kelly.” -Nikita Khrushchev